Australian Journal of French Studies

History, Truth and (Mis)representation in Versailles (2015-2018)

Australian Journal of French Studies (2019), 56, (2), 141–155.

Abstract

The TV series Versailles, set during the construction of the Palace of Versailles and the reign of Louis XIV, premiered in 2015 on Canal+ in France and was quickly picked up by television companies around the world. Almost immediately, it was mired in controversy: at €27 million, it was the most expensive television series ever made in France; it used primarily British actors; the opening and closing credits played out to music by French electronic band M83; and British MPs were outraged at the graphic sex scenes. Historians were not impressed either: Louis did not choose Versailles as his principal residence until 1682, even though series one was set between 1667 and 1670. Perhaps most egregiously, the series’ lingua franca was English. Since its release, Versailles has sharply divided critics, with views split between those who praised the series’ creative reimagining of French history and those who flinched at its factual inaccuracies and confusingly telescoped timeframes. This article uses the work of historian Robert Rosenstone to demonstrate how historical television series like Versailles overlap creatively with historical fact to create alternative historiographic practices. It highlights some of the debates surrounding Versailles in terms of its historical fidelity, visual style, and contemporary resonances, and it examines the critical reception of the series in France, Britain and Australia to observe how viewers have responded to the imaginative mingling of fact and fiction.

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Author details

McCann, Ben