The new BBC adaptation of Les Misérables is a reliably handsome period drama; one that brings an unexpected intimacy to Victor Hugo’s great epic about redemption and revolution.
Starring an excellent cast directed by Dominic West, David Oyelowo and Lily Collins, the new Les Mis instantly erases the foul stench of director Tom Hooper’s unbearable adaptation in 2012, which remains, even years later, one of the four films of The ones that came out. my whole life.
Watch the Les Miserables trailer here
But the musical, by allowing these characters to sing about their rotten lives, provides them with a psychological freedom that they should not receive. Les Misérables is a story about entrapment, both physical and emotional, and not about fleeting fantasy flights. And then there was the matter of the complete mishandling of the material by Hooper. But that is a discussion for another time; We will have the opportunity to talk about his failures as a filmmaker when his adaptation of Cats is released later this year.
The differences are not difficult to detect. On the one hand, Hugo’s melodrama does not immediately lend itself to a musical adaptation. But before saying anything; yes, I am aware that for most modern audiences, the highly successful musical is their only exposure to this story; few would have the strength to read the 2800-page book.
Director – Tom Shankland
Cast – Dominic West, David Oyelowo, Lily Collins, Olivia Colman, Adeel Akhtar
Rating – 4/5
Fortunately, veteran playwright Andrew Davies knows one or two things about literary adaptations, particularly mass novels. He previously wrote the BBC War & Peace series, starring Paul Dano and Lilly James. In six episodes, he condenses Les Misérables, equally majestic, to his very essence: a fable in which the characters are intricate, but also broad archetypes.
Like Jean Valjean, Dominic West is impossible to take your eyes off. Because of its epic character arc, West essentially has the opportunity to interpret not one, but five different people. As a prisoner condemns two decades of forced labor, simply for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his hungry sister, West brings a wild mania that feels too real, especially after Broadway’s incredible disbelief of Hugh Jackman’s performance in the 2012 film. And as an old man and full of guilt trying to amend his past sins, West is heartbreaking and ultimately inspiring.
As with most television (and even cinematographic) adaptations of classic novels, especially those that have also been adapted before, I spent a significant amount of time wondering why we need a new Les Misérables. How is a story about the rich at war with the poor, the young at war with the old and the men at war with the women? all in the context of a possible war, relevant to the modern world? But then, I answered my own question. At one point, a character even says: “It is a very serious matter to make accusations against important public figures.” And I didn’t wonder anymore.
By forcing these timeless characters to relive their tragedies once again, Davies and director Tom Shankland have provided a necessary morality lesson for a modern audience that urgently needs it. And a tremendous reason for its success are the performances of its central trio of actors.
And now it would be a time as good as any other to point out that Les Misérables is by no means a pleasant experience. If he doesn’t send you to a spiral of disappointment, it will surely put you in a very bad mood.
Like Valjean’s eternal foil, Inspector Javert, David Oyelowo brings much-needed emotional complexity to a character that has greatly reduced to a symbol of villainy over the years. Javert in the program is a man in conflict with his own moral code, and it is shown that he is in a constant struggle with him, as the world around him evolves. It should also be noted that the roles of Javert and Donkey Thénardier are played by people of color; we should not miss the opportunity to applaud the blind casting when we see it.
But despite how fabulous West and Oyelowo are (in addition to Adeel Akhtar and the winner of an Olivia Colman Academy Award as the cruel Thénardiers), it was Lily Collins’s heartbreaking performance as Fantine that left me completely stunned. With so little screen time and without a note to sing, Collins injects an admirable dignity into a character who has been summarily stripped of him.
Anyone can show kindness to good people; but it takes a special disinterest to show decency to monsters, especially when you know, with certainty, that you cannot expect the same from them. This raises the obvious question: do monsters deserve kindness? Can they be redeemed? Are human beings inherently decent? Les Misérables, despite its rather revealing title and its propensity to wallow in a pool of tears, is ultimately optimistic. But an unforgettable final take on the show suggests that even that optimism is diminishing.