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Sunday August 19th 2018

The Man In The Iron Mask | 1998

The Man In The Iron Mask filming location: Vaux-le-Vicomte, France
The Man In The Iron Mask location: the King's palace: Vaux-le-Vicomte, France | Photograph: Wikimedia / Jebulon

The third in Alexandre Dumas’ Musketeers saga sees his four Musketeers settling in to well-earned retirement, apart from mere youngster D’Artagnan (Gabrielle Byrne) who’s guarding the spoiled and petulant King Louis XIV (Leonardo DiCaprio).

When Louis sends Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard), the beloved son of Athos (John Malkovich), to almost certain death in war in order to get his hot little hands on Raoul’s fiancée Christine (Judith Godrèche), the three older Musketeers are pitted against D’Artagnan in a plot against the hated monarch.

Much of the film was shot on sets built at Studios d'Arpajon, in Saint-Germain lès Arpajon, northern France.

Built in 1986 in former apple warehouses (that’s fruit, not computers), the eight stages at Studios d'Arpajon were first used for Coline Serreau’s Romuald and Juliette. Other productions made here include Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children, Michel HazanaviciusOSS 117, Patrice Leconte’s The Hairdresser's Husband, Monsieur Hire and Claude Zidi’s Astérix Et Obélix Contre César.

After 25 years of activity and 120 feature films, the Arpajon studios closed its doors to make way for the new Cité du Cinéma, a film studio complex supported by director Luc Besson, located in Saint-Denis, north of Paris.

The production naturally left the studio to film some of the country’s most beautiful castles.

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte stands in for the King's palace and royal gardens, where the huge garden party sequence with 250 extras and a piglet chase was filmed.

Oddly, the history of Vaux-le-Vicomte involves many real-life counterparts to the characters of The Man In The Iron Mask.

In 1641 Nicolas Fouquet, 26-year-old financial secretary to Cardinal Mazarin bought the estate and enlisted three top-ranking craftsmen of the time, architect Louis Le Vau, decorator Charles Le Brun and garden designer Andre Le Notre, to give the property a thorough makeover. Unfortunately for Fouquet, in 1661, the Cardinal's private secretary, Colbert, determined to ingratiate himself to the King by laying the responsibility for the kingdom's financial woes at the feet of the hapless Fouquet. In that year, Fouquet hosted a magnificent party at which the guest of honour was the King himself, but a mere three weeks later, he was arrested by D'Artagnan and sent to prison, where he spent the rest of his life.

Vaux-le-Vicomte remains the precursor of the Palace of Versailles, which was built and decorated by the same trio of artists.

Bond fans might recognise Vaux-le-Vicomte as the ‘Californian’ estate of Drax in Moonraker. It has also appeared in Milos Forman’s Valmont (his version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses), Patrice Leconte’s Ridicule and Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.

The medieval quarter of Le Mans, the capital of the Sarthe in north-western France, provided the streets of 'Paris'. Boasting some of the best-preserved 15th Century streets in the country, the quarter was used in a similar way for Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s 1990 film of Cyrano De Bergerac, with Gerard Depardieu as the romantic hero.

The Man In The Iron Mask filming location: Chateau de Pierrefonds, France
The Man In The Iron Mask location: the 'Bastille' prison: Chateau de Pierrefonds, France | Photograph: Wikimedia / Thomon

The exterior of the priest’s house and the 'Bastille prison' are Château de Pierrefonds, a 14th century fortified castle roughly 50 miles northeast of Paris.

Pierrefonds is on the southeast edge of the Forest of Compiègne, between Villers-Cotterêts and Compiègne. The castle fell into ruin for more than two centuries until being bought by Napoleon I in 1810 (for less than 3,000 francs). Napoleon III later restored the castle though, in keeping with 19th Century romanticism, preserving it as a ‘romantic ruin’. Pierrefonds has been seen in Les Visiteurs and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, as well as standing in for ‘Camelot’ for the BBC series Merlin.

The land below the fortifications also became the ‘Flanders’ battlefield to which the doomed Raoul is sent.

After being given rotten food, the starving people of Paris rebel, until they are placated by the trusted D’Artagnan. The market square is the vast courtyard of the Chateau De Fontainebleau.

The 16th Century royal palace was an official residence of the Royal Family from Louis VII through to Napoleon III. It was here that Napoleon I abdicated before being sent in to exile in Elba. Today, it’s a national museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The country retreat to which mysterious prisoner Phillipe (also DiCaprio) is spirited away after his rescue from the Bastille, and where the iron mask is removed, is the Manoir du Logis in Fontenay-sur-Vègre, a 15th Century provincial manor house which was converted into a farm during the Revolution. It’s some 20 miles west of Le Mans.