The Last Musketeer looks like a cheesy movie. In fact, for the most part it is... but it's surprisingly good cheese. Sure, it won't win any awards for high drama, but by taking itself seriously enough to do a decent job, the film manages to overcome its tendency toward melodrama, and delivers an entertaining experience. Even more importantly - and here we get to the real reason I decided to review this DVD - the film manages to present modern sport fencing with an amazing degree of accuracy.
Let's get the basics squared away first. The plot of The Last Musketeer is decidedly melodramatic: Steve McTear (Robson Green) is an elite fencer who abruptly finds himself not only missing out on a spot on the British World Championship team, but also on the run from both his former criminal associates and (unjustly) the police. In an effort to get away from all of these troubles, McTear agrees to fill in as the temporary fencing coach for a Scottish girls' school, whose fencing team is on the verge of a breakthrough season. Toss in a romantic interest and a few other twists and turns, and you have a plot that sounds hopelessly cheesy.
Remarkably, though, the cast of The Last Musketeer manage to pull it off. Robson Green puts a believable intensity into his performance, and the supporting actors follow suit, even down to the girls who play the fencing team members. The combination of gritty street drama with Chariots of Fire style sporting drama sounds like it ought to fall apart, but again, it manages to hold itself together... probably because at a tight 85 minutes, The Last Musketeer is briskly paced and wastes very little screen time on fluff.
More interestingly, The Last Musketeer successfully sidesteps some of the cliches that were lying in wait for it. The sporting drama is kept to a realistic scale (if there really is a fencing championship for Scottish girls' schools, it probably looks a lot like what's shown here), and the personal lessons are drawn quite accurately from life. Not all of the threads are tied up in neat, happy resolutions, and the final scene puts a nice sense of closure on the film without overdoing it. While some of the language is strong, I'd actually say that this is an excellent film for young adults; it offers a realistic glimpse at the struggles of young athletes, and has an excellent message about the importance of channeling anger into productive pursuits. I also like the fact that the girls here are shown with complete sincerity as athletes, sweat and all.
Now let's get to a crucial point: the fencing! I'm a serious competitive fencer myself, so I'm always attracted to a film that purports to have fencing in it. Most of the time I regret the impulse, as fencing in movies is almost universally bad. So how does The Last Musketeer hold up? Amazingly, it does a very nice job of handling the fencing.
The fencing here is foil fencing, and it's shown accurately, with electric scoring equipment and referee calls that make sense. In fact, I suspect that the main fencing scenes (in McTear's fencing club, and at the boarding school competition) were done in real fencing locations with real fencers and referees brought in. To a fencer's eye, Green himself is obviously no fencer, but he handles himself well enough to be convincing to a non-fencer, and the coaching scenes are scripted to be fairly reasonable. I do have to note two things for the audience. First, in real fencing, you would be penalized severely for forgetting (or refusing) to shake hands after finishing a fencing bout. Second, and more importantly, no sane coach or fencer would ever practice or take a lesson without a mask, as they do here. (Yeah, yeah, they needed to show the actors' faces.)
In one nice touch, McTear's fencing bag is appropriately beat-up. And if any non-fencers in the audience think it's unrealistic that, when being chased by the bad guys, he should stop to grab his bag and take it with him as he climbs out the fire escape to escape... just ask a fencer. We'd have been complaining if he'd done something as foolish as to leave all his gear behind!
It is not entirely clear whether the film appears on this DVD exactly as shown in the UK; here it is 85 minutes, but some sources indicate that it was originally 120 minutes.
The Last Musketeer, a TV movie, is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The image quality is just about adequate. There are no real problems with the transfer, but it's quite soft and often a bit grainy. The darker scenes seem to have the contrast a bit too harsh, but the more brightly lit scenes look fine.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack provides a clean and clear listening experience. It's a no-frills track, but then it doesn't really call for audio fireworks anyway, so it's perfectly satisfactory.
There are no special features.
The Last Musketeer is a lightweight but surprisingly entertaining bit of melodrama, with some solid performances (and great British accents, by the way). Fencers in particular will enjoy the film, as it manages to present the sport with surprising accuracy; certainly it captures some of the excitement of it. I'll give it a solid "rent it" rating. (If you are a foil fencer, like the characters here, you might even want to buy it. I'm a sabre fencer, though, so I'll stick to it as a rental.)