March 23, 2023

Essentially one of the film’s many comic side characters, Lester and Welch’s Constance is a snakebite klutz who couldn’t get out of the way of her own rescue. Seriously, there’s a scene in The Four Musketeers where the original three swashbucklers come to her aid, and Constance assumes they are more guards of the villainous Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston). So she swiftly kicks two of them in the crown jewels. As filmed in a wide, objectively disinterested shot, the moment relies on the most base of physical comedy, and yet achieves the kind of understated visual deadpan Lester pioneered in movies like the the Beatles films A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965)—arguably forerunners to Monty Python’s more anarchic sensibility in cinemas a few years later.

The droll silliness of the scene is a result of Lester’s natural sensibility, but it also relied on excellent comic timing from each actor, including Welch whose Constance is required to fall down and be the butt of the joke in nearly every scene of the movie she appears. She’s like a bombshell version of Margaret Dumont in a Marx Brothers joint, including when she nervously blocks the eyes of Porthos (Frank Finlay) as he carries her away from the danger on his back via giant stilts.

It’s all disarmingly funny, yet even this comic spectacle belies the importance of casting the right kind of talent. For instance, the following scene in which Constance rides on Porthos’ back alongside the other three Musketeers, galavanting away from danger, is a cinematic illusion. In real life, Welch was the best horse rider of the group, and she took the reins from behind to control the horse when Finlay couldn’t. She might be the comic relief, yet she is literally driving the shot.

In this way, Welch contributed considerably to the appeal of Lester’s Musketeers duology. When taken purely as a narrative rendering of Dumas’ gargantuan novel, the two movies are the most faithful adaptation of the source material. The stakes for most of the story are rarely higher than recovering the jewels of Queen Anne (Geraldine Chaplin), for whom Constance is a dressmaker and confidant. The Musketeers hope to prevent embarrassment for Anne and France due to her affair with the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward). The mission also acts as a way to prevent Cardinal Richelieu from starting (and then elongating) a war with France. Yet for the musketeers, that’s almost happenstance. These are simply proud swashbuckling heroes doing their duty.

Onscreen, however, they’re also presented as a bunch of schmucks serving entitled fools. Lester’s Queen Anne is sympathetic and more deserving of loyalty than her buffoonish husband, King Louis XIII (Jean-Pierre Cassel), but she is still putting the lives of the musketeers and even Constance in mortal danger. Meanwhile her true love, the Duke of Buckingham, is carrying on his own affairs on the side despite preparing to wage war with France to steal Anne. In the middle of it all, the only musketeer seemingly aware of the utter meaninglessness of the bloodshed is Athos (Oliver Reed), a mean drunk and perhaps the most noble man in the lot because he’ll still raise the sword out of honor between cups.

Welch’s Constance is reworked to serve this vision too. Partially, this is done to update the material for the frothier tastes of post-1960s audiences. While D’Artagnan and Constance have an unrequited affair between their hearts on the page, within 10 minutes of appearing together in the movie, York’s boyish hero and the pretty wife of his decrepit old landlord (Spike Milligan) are happily falling into bed together.

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