for a 19th century French novel, “Dangerous Relationships” it certainly went on to inspire a play, the 1988 and ’89 films “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Valmont,” respectively, and the teenage twist “Cruel Intentions.” Now comes a prequel to the Starz series, “Dangerous Liaisons,” and it amps up the sexiness as the story drags (and out and out).
Although the show features unknown Australian protagonists Nicholas Denton, Valmont, the sly seductress, and Alice Englert (daughter of renowned director Jane Campion) as Camille, his initial love and eventual nemesis, are surrounded by top players. in supporting roles and sometimes short-lived. The cast includes “Phantom Thread’s” Lesley Manville and “Game of Thrones” alumni Carice Van Houten, Michael McElhatton and Tom Wlaschiha.
Set in Paris in the 1700s, the show once again lustily captures all kinds of sexual affairs that were commonplace, but also potentially disastrous if exposed, and in Valmont’s case, used as tools of blackmail as skillfully as weapons of war.
Camille learns the hard way before taking Merteuil (Manville) under the wing of the wealthy Marquis (Manville), who advises him to learn from the elder’s mistakes, asking him to “Revenge our sex”, and in this iteration of the battle between the sexes, the stake is “Conquer or die”.
Adapted by writer/producer Harriet Warner (“Call the Midwife”), the episodic format undercuts the story’s momentum for all its juicy bits. In fact, it’s not until the third episode that the plot really kicks in, when Camille challenges Valmont to ostensibly condemn the staunch and immovable Jacqueline de Montrachet (Van Houten), calling her “the only woman in Paris you can’t seduce.” – for reasons that will be seen later.
Contemporary melodrama has become a fertile field, which becomes a double-edged sword. Beautifully staged, however, it’s easy to dismiss “Dangerous Liaisons” (especially for those with no prior investment in the property) as either a slightly more polished version of “Bridgerton” or a comedy twist on “The Great,” both of which show that empty similar itching.
Conversely, for anyone with a penchant for the movies (both Glenn Close/John Malkovich and Annette Bening/Colin Firth are well worth the time), this performance has a pallid quality, rather than a long way in the vapor of situations. they are structured, albeit with surprising twists along the way.
Starz has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of its costume dramas, with “The Serpent Queen” being the most recent example. In a vote of confidence, the network has already renewed “Dangerous Liaisons” for a second season before it premieres, so those hoping for the last thing a limited series could deliver should be warned.
Given the recognizable title and international appeal, there’s perhaps a little less risk at stake with this concept, its premium TV sexuality 18th century. Filtered through the prism of twentieth-century decadence.
That said, not everything is worthy of its own cinematic universe. And while the options stated by the bosses may be “conquer or die,” the net effect of the series falls somewhere in the not-very-very-satisfying in-between area.
“Dangerous Liaisons” premieres November 6th at 8pm ET on Starz.