Ambition and Over-the-Top Wealth in 17th-Century Royal France

Barbara Noe Kennedy


Nicolas Fouquet in 17th-century Paris seems to have it all: wealth, power, women. After a calculated rise to power, Fouquet, who is named the Superintendent of Finances, basks in his glory and ambition by building the lavish Vaux-le-Vicomte, a chateau outside of Paris. But he makes one royal miscalculation:  “Young Louis XIV has only two passions,” he says flippantly. “Dancing, and the peas in his kitchen gardens.”


Wrong! Louis XIV is vastly jealous when he views the excessive wealth, stating, the “King of France doesn’t have two coins to rub together.”


The King, the Squirrel, and the Grass Snake (Le Roi, L’Écureuil et la Couleuvre) is the rich two-part miniseries capturing Fouquet’s rise and fall in an extravaganza of sumptuous costumes and stage settings.


Part One delves into the intertwining stories of the power struggle among Cardinal Mazarin, who serves as the chief minister to the king; Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Intendant of Finances who eyes greater heights; and Fouquet, as he amasses his power and wealth and begins building his palace.



Part Two opens with a grand party at Vaux-le-Vicomte with the king as guest of honor, an over-the-top fête including a many-course meal, the premiere of a new Molière work (Les Fâcheux), and fireworks. We watch the sullen Louis XIV eye the show of wealth as Fouquet remains obliviously arrogant, and the king’s subsequent coldhearted injustices that he bequeaths on Fouquet, including a travesty of a trial and life imprisonment.


First released in France in 2009 for F2, TV5, and Jimmy, Ciné Cinéma, the two-part series—95 minutes each part—premiered on July 20, 2021, with English subtitles, on MHZ Choice, a streaming service for foreign and international content. Lorànt Deutsch plays a shrewd but vulnerable Fouquet, Thierry Frémont depicts a power-lunging Colbert, and Sara Giraudeau is the smart and playful, turning heartbroken Marie-Madeline Fouquet.


It’s definitely a show that makes you think twice about being flashy. 


Author Bio:

Barbara Noe Kennedy worked as an editor at the National Geographic Book Division for more than 20 years. She has written four books, and her writings have also been published in National Geographic, The Daily Telegraph, and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine. 


For Highbrow Magazine

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Images courtesy of MHZ Choice
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