Alexander Vlahos in a scene from season two of the TV series Versailles.
Alexander Vlahos in a scene from season two of the TV series Versailles. Anouchka de Williencourt

Versaille's cross-dressing warrior a dream role

HISTORY is sometimes stranger, and more interesting, than fiction as Alexander Vlahos knows all too well.

The actor plays King Louis XIV's flamboyant brother Philippe d'Orleans in the acclaimed period drama Versailles.

A larger than life figure nicknamed the 17th century's David Bowie, he was just as comfortable in a corset as he was on the battlefield.

"Philippe was a cross-dressing gay warrior. You could pluck Philippe out of the 17th century and put him in this century and he would still be too far advanced," Vlahos tells The Guide.

"He really was ground breaking and an icon of his time. When I first read about Philippe I had no idea he actually existed; he felt too radical. He's such a joy of a character to play. I enjoy waking up every morning and putting on the wig."

Versailles follows the Sun King's bold move to relocate France's seat of power from Paris to his father's hunting lodge at Versailles.

In season two, Louis sees the dream of his grand Versailles palace crumbling before his eyes. With phase one of the palace complete, most of France's eminent lords and ladies now live under his roof, locked in a constant battle for supremacy.

Elisa Lasowski, George Blagden and Anna Brewster in a scene from Versailles.
Elisa Lasowski, George Blagden and Anna Brewster in a scene from Versailles. Anouchka de Williencourt


Drugs, gambling and alcohol are rampant, as nobles begin to poison each other to get closer to the king and climb the social ladder.

"Louis goes to a very dark place in season two," Vlahos says. "He can't sleep, he's trying to find a cure for his insomnia, he's starting to listen to the wrong people and he's in bed literally and figuratively with Lady Montesan.

"Philippe, even though he would never admit it, he's the person Louis looks to for advice. They implicitly agree with each other and have each other's back.

"Why the show works is the two brothers want what each other has. Louis wants the freedom to do what he wants, whereas Philippe wants responsibility and the weight of France on his shoulders."

Four years have passed since the death of Philippe's wife Henrietta at the end of season one and his brother is keen for him to remarry, matching him with Princess Palatine.

"There's a scene in episode three where he arrives for his wedding day in a beautiful gown just to get more of the attention and eyes looking at him," he says.

"In season one we saw a marriage arranged purely so Henrietta could stay at court and Philippe being really used in that situation. In season two he finds Palatine very endearing. She's a breath of fresh air and allows Philippe to see Versailles from fresh eyes. She questions things that for Philippe are just a way of life. She's very funny, quite bossy and sparky - she's nothing like anyone he's ever met before."

But his second marriage doesn't stop Philippe from indulging in his playboy lifestyle.

"Philippe went to war in season one, but in season two we reverse that. Louis gets to go to war and Philippe gets to stay home," he says.

"He gets to basically be king while Louis is away and in classic Philippe style he hosts a giant orgy... the boardroom was the bedroom really."

The first episode of season two of Versailles is available to preview on SBS On Demand from today before the full season airs on SBS from Thursday, July 27.

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