The first thing to say about this set is that it comes in two forms. The original release, in 2018, contained four each of the eight poses pictured above in brown plastic on a pale background. In 2020 a second type was released, which contained just one of each of the original eight poses, plus two each of a second group of eight poses pictured above in the light plastic. This review incorporates the original review of the type 1 set, but also considers the new poses and rates the type 2 set.
SPOILER ALERT! This set is clearly heavily influenced by the Dumas book The Three Musketeers, to which we will frequently refer in this review. We won’t be giving away any of the story, but will be discussing the characters, so if you intend to read this book and are sensitive to spoilers then you should consider not reading the rest of this review since inevitably it will reveal elements which you may not wish to know in advance!
In March of 1844 Le Siécle newspaper serialised a new story by Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) called The Three Musketeers. The story told of a young man from Gascony coming to Paris in 1625 to join the King’s Musketeers, and of the adventures he had with his new friends, the titular three musketeers. The story was a big hit and was quickly released as a book, achieving international success and widely translated. Several follow-up books would appear, taking the story forward many years, but it was the first book that remained the favourite with many, giving a fame to the various real historical characters contained in the book, as well as the King’s musketeers themselves of course.
Despite the fact that the box for this set makes no mention of the book, and only speaks of the Thirty Years War, anyone who has read The Three Musketeers will immediately recognise the figures to be found here, or at least the figures in our top three rows. Therefore we will begin by attempting to identify each of those figures.
The top row is clearly made up of the musketeers themselves. The book makes it plain that they were all expert swordsmen and very fond of a duel, which explains why each man is holding something in addition to his sword, giving the impression that none are finding their fencing particularly taxing. They hold a handkerchief, a bottle and a drinking vessel, which are explained in the book, so to a great degree they do give the appropriate heroic appearance that the author clearly intended.
The second row begins with another musketeer, this time actually using a musket. Although skill with the musket is not given much coverage in the book, such men would obviously have been able to handle such a weapon, and as with the top row this man seems to be very cheerful, waving his hat in the air. The second figure is pretty clearly d’Artagnan himself, since he looks confident with a sword but does not wear the cassock of the musketeers and looks quite young too.
The third row strays completely from the theme of musketeers, but remains true to the book. The first figure is a fairly simply-dressed woman with a pleasing face and figure which must surely be Constance Bonacieux, although the unfortunate Kitty would also be a (less likely) candidate for this figure. Next to her is a woman dressed in very fine clothes and again very shapely, with a dress that makes the most of her figure. This would seem to be the Queen, Anne of Austria, the subject of so much affection. Lastly there is a very well-dressed gentleman with sword sheathed but carrying a cane. Since this set only contains what you would call the ‘good guys’, this figure could serve as M. de Tréville, Lord de Winter, the Duke of Buckingham or even the King himself, since all would have been dressed in similar style.
Still sticking with just the first three rows pictured above, and having assigned characters to each figure, do they work well as those characters? Well yes, in our view they do. The clothing all matches what one might imagine such characters to look like, and the poses chosen also seem to fit well with the literary description. The soldiers are engaged in dashing exploits with their swords, the ladies are decorous and clearly deserving of the instant infatuation they seem to provoke, and the last gentleman has all the dignity of a major political figure. As a set of the heroes of the Dumas book these fit the bill very well.
Our last two rows show the poses only contained in the second type set, but actually there are also very subtle differences between the types for the first eight poses. The two female poses lose their bases in the second type (although they do still stand), one musketeer gains a plume on his hat, and all the musketeers have a badge engraved on their cassocks, front and back. Apart from that, they seem to be identical.
The new additions for the type 2 set do much to take the set away from the Dumas book and bring it into a more realistic historical context. To begin with, all the poses are of soldiers, and most could easily be in battle. This time the majority of musketeers actually have a musket, and several are using it too. The firing, marching and reloading poses are all fine, as is the officer pose at the end, so we now have a much more military collection of figures. The only exception is the last figure in our penultimate row, who is on the march but carrying a basket containing a picnic. Bottles of wine and loaves of bread are clearly visible, so this would be a more unusual, though not impossible, scene from a military campaign. In fact the picnic refers to an episode in the book, but with some careful cutting the basket could be removed to obtain a more general figure.
Looking at the complete set as a depiction of the actual historical unit rather than the book, the women are of course nothing to do with it so are something of a bonus, though that does still leave a decent 14 poses of military men. All the soldiers are correctly dressed for the King’s musketeers, which is to say they wear ordinary soldier’s clothes but mostly with the cassock that was the sole item of uniform. As we have said, the type 1 set had no engraving on this, but all the musketeers in the type 2 set, old and new, have the correct symbol for the unit. The last man in row two has no cassock, so is strictly speaking out of ‘uniform’, but is still a worthwhile 17th century soldier. The last figure in the third row could be a senior officer, and the man with large pistol and spontoon in the last row would be a more junior one.
Our original review stated that the poses were bizarre for a military unit, and so they were. We have men using their sword whilst holding a handkerchief, a bottle or a wine glass, and one man is fencing left-handed. These are all references to the book, but the new poses are much more conventional. The widespread use of the musket is one obvious improvement, but all are much more martial, aside from the picnic basket. This does much to make the whole set feel much more military and historically relevant than the type 1.
The first of the bonus figures (as we will label the two female characters here) is dressed as a relatively well-off lady, and the second is clearly something aristocratic. Although the costumes are accurate, both are shockingly revealing in the low cut of their dresses – shocking at least if in public, where they would be seen as immoral and immodest. Clearly the sculptor had a lot of fun making them, and they do have their uses, but as civilians walking the street the first woman would be seen as more working than walking, and the second is hard to imagine as a lady of quality.
Whether historic or literary, these figures are beautifully sculpted, with both old and new ones done in the same style. The detail is excellent and the clothing is superbly done everywhere. The faces are really expressive, and the proportions are pretty much spot on too, with lovely slender swords and muskets. However the newer figures do feel slightly flat, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the picnic basket. This looks fine viewed from the side, as in our photograph, but it is actually absurdly thin – one more reason to lose it completely. The poses we liked, although the last man in the top row is far from a recognised fencing posture even without the cup, so is the weakest of the bunch. The two new figures actually firing their matchlocks have a separate right arm and gun barrel, so make a better pose, but these need gluing. It is pleasing to report that there is no flash anywhere here, so the quality of production is outstanding.
In summary then we have two different versions of the same set, and both depict rather different things. Viewed as a depiction of the Dumas novel, the first set of poses are great characterisations with lots of life, some cheek, some sex appeal and all the action you would expect. All the major hero characters are depicted, so there is nothing not to like here. For a depiction of the actual King’s musketeers of around the time of the Thirty Years War (which means from 1635 in fact), the men’s costume is fine but it is mostly the second set of eight poses that give the set credibility. For the military unit the original poses were bizarre and far from representative, but as we have said the second type relegates these to just one of each, so no problem there. The ladies poses are fine but the costume is not what would be seen in public, particularly for someone in the ruling class, so perhaps limited to balls and the like. Nevertheless the second set of poses mean this is a really decent depiction of the historical unit, which has enough poses to be able to play, to a degree, with the Dumas characters without making the whole thing almost irrelevant to serious modellers. Since the set itself never claims any link with the novel, the changes for the second type make it a far more useful set of historical soldiers, and as a result our comments and scores on this second type are very much better than those originally given to the first type. Ultima Ratio deserve much credit for improving their original product to make something much more likely to appeal to a wider audience of modellers without losing the fun aspect of the original set.