“Near-heroic adaptation” breathes new life into Les Misérables
Now streaming on Showmax, the series was #86 on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the best TV of 2019, with an 86% critics rating. The story centres on prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean, as he tries to redeem himself after being sentenced to 19 years of hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread.
Golden Globe nominees Dominic West (The Affair, The Wire) and David Oyelowo OBE (Selma, A United Kingdom) respectively star as the iconic Jean Valjean and his unyielding arch-nemesis, Inspector Javert.
“Javert represents retribution and an Old Testament way of looking at the world,” says Oyelowo. “He doesn’t believe people are redeemable.”
For Valjean, West explains, that belief means “he’s never entirely free. It’s only partially because of Javert but also because of his own conscience; he always believes that he is a bad man and doesn’t deserve good, in spite of being a great hero who rescues countless lives.”
“[Olivia Colman] chews le scenery as if it were a day-old baguette, and it’s every bit as horrifying and enchanting as that sounds.” – IndieWire
Set against the backdrop of growing unrest in Paris, this epic tale of injustice and redemption spans two decades, culminating in the Paris uprising of 1832.
IndieWire hails the series as “moving and stunning… an engrossing treat, featuring a vibrant cast… captures the beauty and anguish of this unjust life,” while Wall Street Journal calls it a “handsome, passionate, near-heroic adaptation of Hugo’s moral fable.”
The all-star cast includes Oscar winner Olivia Colman (The Favourite, The Crown), who, as IndieWire puts it, “steals every scene she’s in as the loathsome yet hilarious Madame Thénardier. She chews le scenery as if it were a day-old baguette, and it’s every bit as horrifying and enchanting as that sounds.”
Golden Globe nominee Lily Collins (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) is Fantine; BAFTA winner Adeel Akhtar (The Big Sick, The Night Manager) plays Monsieur Thénardier; and David Bradley (aka Walder Frey in Game of Thrones and Argus Filch in Harry Potter) is Gillenormand.
The series is directed by Emmy nominee Tom Shankland (The Missing) and shot by Emmy-winning cinematographer Stephan Pehrsson (Black Mirror). “We have created massive epic scenes for the battle of Waterloo, the barricades and street fighting in 19th-Century Paris,” says West. “It’s a real visual feast.”
Emmy-winning screenwriter Andrew Davies (House of Cards, Bridget Jones’s Diary, War & Peace) adapted the novel. “The luxury of time allows Davies’ treatment to highlight the class disparities and political inequity that are at the heart of Hugo’s story,” says CNN, adding that he “fleshes out characters and situations normally given short shrift on screen.”
Les Misérables is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th Century but is now best known as the longest-running musical on the West End, and, of course, the Oscar-winning 2012 movie of the musical.
But for some, the fact that this latest adaptation is not a musical is its biggest drawcard. “It’s gratifying and refreshing to return to the story’s non-musical roots,” says IndieWire. “This forces the words, the acting, and the pacing to stand on their own to evoke emotion, without relying on swelling choruses.”
“C’est magnifique,” says The Guardian, “and there is no chance of Russell Crowe popping up to sing about stars or runaway carts. Merci, Monsieur Davies. Merci.”