Your new favorite period drama has arrived in all its glory.
On Dangerous Liaisons Season 1 Episode 1, we are introduced to the world of Camille (Alice Englert) and Pascal (Nicholas Denton) — along with the world that they are desperate to join.
It’s a dark, dangerous, beautiful place that is harsh and unwelcoming — and once you are in, you must always have your wits about you.
This prequel series was created for television (and this episode was written) by Harriet Warner. Her dialogue is rich and poetic, and her characters are intelligent and complex.
So much ground is covered in this episode — it’s impressive! So many layers of deceit, intrigue, and betrayal are revealed. It’s wild to think this is only the first episode of eight. It’s an ambitious set-up, pitting the two lovers against each other.
Presenting Camille and Pascal as lovers first makes such a beautiful narrative sense. We fall in love with them before we know anything about them. We only see their passion and yearning.
As the truth of the matter piles up, the scope of their situation become apparent. There is no way they will be happy together — it seems impossible — but we so desperately want them to be.
Only when Valmont is revealed as a liar and a rake, on a grander scale than previously imagined, do we start to hate him.
But because Denton is such a charming actor, and the way he is presented, we do believe that he is doing this for his and Camille’s benefit — in some twisted, deluded way.
We think the best of him and find out why he would do something like this before discovering his infidelities and horribleness.
Englert’s Camille is stubborn and passionate, with a brilliant mind and potential practically bursting out of her.
Camille thinks several steps ahead and has figured out how to compartmentalize her feelings and find solutions that will work to her benefit, hurt the ones who have wronged her, and retain the things that give her capital — Valmont’s letters.
These two young people are both selling themselves for money in order to have a chance to live with each other.
If Valmont hadn’t lied about what he was doing, Camille might have recognized him as someone the same as she — someone who exchanges sex for favors, be they money or something that may be useful in the future.
It was the scope of his lies that was so devastating.
Genevieve: Privilege cannot be learned.
Camille: All things can be learned.
Valmont’s betrayal is part of what makes the friendship between Genevieve and Camille so satisfying.
Female friendships in period dramas are always a huge selling point for me.
Genevieve chose to take in Camille (and Victoire) reluctantly, as they forced her hand, but the camaraderie between them, and the wisdom Genevieve is willing to impart to Camille is delicious and exciting.
They could have become bitter rivals in that they share a lover — a man they both truly loved and believed loved them.
But Genevieve understands that this young woman has been wronged as well as she, and she has something that she can offer, to lift Camille up. In doing so, she gets revenge on Valmont by doing Camille a great service.
Lesley Manville is wonderful here (as she always is), regal and stately while maintaining her sensual vulnerability. Her eyes speak volumes without uttering a word.
It’s also such a pleasure to see a woman in her 60s portrayed with vital sexuality without it being made into a joke.
You are my glorious release. Desire has made me fearless, and reckless with my reputation.
Kosar Ali is magnetic in her role as Camille’s loyal, sensible friend, Victoire. Have we ever seen a young female Muslim character in the time and setting? It’s so refreshing.
Victoire is a fascinating character — bold and courageous while remaining sensible and stoic. She seems to know what’s best but, unfortunately, doesn’t wield as much power as she’d like, but she will do all she can to protect Camille.
It’s hard to know what she wants except her (and Camille’s) safety. I look forward to learning more about her.
Victoire’s interactions with Nathanael Saleh as Valmont’s apprentice Azolan are fun.
They seem to have an unspoken understanding of the toxicity and chaos in the relationship between Pascal and Camille. Both are young, but they are dutiful in their roles to keep the two lovers grounded (as much as they can).
Pascal: Didn’t I promise you the brightest future when I took you on here?
Azolan: You did, though it still remains too bright to see with the human eye.
There will be inevitable comparisons to the classic 1988 film/1985 play. Still, one could easily argue that this surpasses it — not to take anything away from Glenn Close’s majestic, iconic portrayal of Merteuil — she’s unmatchable.
There are many nods to the original. The influence of Letter 81 from Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s novel is clear.
There is also the inevitable declaration of “love or war” (it’s even the title of the episode). Camille makes the same choice here, much as she did in the film/play/novel.
It’s either love or war. There’s nothing in between. Nothing.
As we know, nobody really wins when there is a war like this — it’s only a matter of how much everyone involved stands to lose.
Since it’s based on the epistolary novel, it makes sense that all the power Camille and Valmont have is in the written letters.
The letters are almost a character in and of themselves — deep, dark secrets of love and lust, ready to be used by whoever has their hands on them.
It’s also a nice touch that the episode opens at the opera when the 1988 film ends in the same location — it’s a clever way to bookend.
The joy here is in knowing how the story will end (if you know, you know) but having no idea of the journey these characters will take to get there.
Every aspect of this show is flawless. Andrea Flesch’s costumes are lavish and exquisite. Daniel Parker’s hair and makeup are spectacular. The intimate scenes, courtesy of Ita O’Brien, are luscious, sensual, and artful.
David Roger’s set design, Christos Voudoris’s cinematography, and the music fill out this world and make it feel whole and detailed.
It’s a nice touch to see that when Camille and Pascal are alone together, they wear hardly any makeup and dress plainly (apart from the opening party scene), but they must put on their facade when they embark on the false, aristocratic world. It indicates that they have a deep, emotional connection.
It’s tragic if you know how it inevitably turns out as they age into who they become in the Laclos book/Hampton play. Knowing what they are capable of makes us wonder what they are capable of now.
There is also the anger, if you know your French history, at how tenuous this life is, which lends to its inevitable tragedy. The system is already stretching at the seams.
My husband sends another man to the heavens to find his God. Would that he went to such lengths to know me, or his people.
Queen Marie Antoinette
The poor are miserable and are protesting the rich in the streets — it’s one of the first scenes we see. The poor are seen as a (rightful) threat to the aristocracy, who hoard more wealth than they could possibly need.
There is always the threat of being relegated to that “underclass.” Camille is walking a tightrope, and Pascal leaves her on the brink with only her wits to guide her.
It’s a cautionary tale about wealth disparity, and the undercurrent of potential collapse is ever-present.
You can feel the danger these characters are in — not to mention the risk of STIs. There has to be a lot going around, seeing as everyone seems to be having sex with everybody else. These things rarely get addressed in period dramas, but there’s time enough!
Harriet Warner and director Leonora Lonsdale have captured the spirit and poetry of this dangerous world and invigorated it with life, and strengthened the feminist aspects.
The world has been expanded while maintaining its intimacy. In the original, the Marquise navigates (expertly) through a world of men and wields all the power, while the other women are waifish pawns or weak-willed innocents.
Love is lethal, Camille. Explore your own heart, but study the hearts of others.
There are many strong women here — the Marquise de Meurteil, Camille, Valmont’s stepmother Ondine, Victoire, Madame Jericho, and no doubt many more we shall meet in coming episodes.
It is so much more enjoyable when there are many worthy, varied adversaries amongst the men and women instead of two people who run the show, so to speak.
Dangerous Liaisons has already been renewed for Season 2, so we have many more hours to look forward to in this world with these characters.
It will be interesting to see if the timeline catches up to the original and we see a replay, but from a new perspective with all the information we will have by then. (Christopher Hampton IS an executive producer, so it’s possible, right?)
Did you enjoy the premiere? Are you looking forward to more? Who are you rooting for?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
Mary Littlejohn is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.