Les Miserables: A polished adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic

The summer period is a magnificent opportunity to recover series that we did not have the opportunity to watch at the time, especially if, as in the case of ‘Les Miserables’, they are available on the magnificent free service RTVE Play of our public television.

‘Les Miserables’ is another result of the BBC’s policy of periodically reviving great classics of literature through new versions. Every year he commissions three or four big-budget miniseries, as he did in 2019 with ‘Les Miserables’, based on the great work of Victor Hugo.

In this case the main difficulty was to be faithful to the spirit of the original novel, moving away from the most popular musical versions that have recently captured the attention of viewers both in theater and in cinema, seeking that return to the roots of the original novel. .

To do this, there is nothing better than commissioning one of the best British screenwriters, the venerable Andrew Davies (House of Cards, Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace) who, at 82, has made a very neat adaptation with a great cast, as I will analyze next.

File: Les Miserables 6 ep 60 min. Dec 2018- Feb 2019 . Idiom: English Spanish. String: BBC (UK) / Movistar #0/ RTVE Play (E)

Synopsis: The life of Jean Valjean explained from shortly after the battle of Waterloo and that takes place throughout the convulsive S XIX in France. His life is like a roller coaster being imprisoned, released, become a prosperous businessman and many other vicissitudes that had a decisive influence on many people around him for better and for worse.

The remorse for his mistakes will haunt him throughout his life, seeking to amend and correct the damage caused by his actions in certain people and especially in poor Fantine, whom he led to a tragic life from which he tries to redeem and free. to his daughter Cosette.

The beggining: It is not an easy task to adapt Victor Hugo’s gigantic novel with more than 2000 pages, which travels through numerous characters through France devastated by post-Bonapartian wars and revolutions, especially due to the heavy memory of the recent musical film that has been a global success and winner of three Oscars.

In these cases, the best solution is to entrust the script to the Welshman Andrew Davies, a university professor of literature who alternated with writing individual scripts for BBC anthology programs until, in the mid-1980s, he decided to focus on in screenwriting thanks to the success of his creation ‘A Very Peculiar Practice’.

Davies only made one condition and that was the complete absence of songs and music in order to get as far away as possible from the popular stage version and its subsequent film version.

In this way he tried to expand that musical universe that is the only one known by many viewers to provide much more context in the initial episodes about the stories of the main characters.

In any case, the project had quite a few problems because it was planned as a co-production between the BBC and Harvey Weinstein’s production company, so when the mega-producer’s sex scandal broke out, they were forced to look for another American partner, finding him on PBS and his ‘Masterpiece’ program

The chosen director was the experienced Tom Shankland (Ripper Street, The Missing) who directed the six episodes of the miniseries shot in the north of France and Belgium as the places that best preserved the essence of the time of revolutionary France in which it took place. locates ‘Les Miserables’.

For its premiere, the peak period of British television was reserved, such as Christmas, starting its broadcast on December 30 on the BBC, being promoted with the following trailer.

The plot: Jean Valjean is a prisoner who has spent nineteen years in the extremely harsh prison of Toulon, for a minimum crime. After serving his sentence, he tries to rebuild his life, although it will not be easy, due to the animosity that Jabert, a former jailer, turned police inspector, has for him, who will do everything possible to put him back behind bars.

In parallel we have the story of Fantine, a young romantic and dreamer, whose destiny unexpectedly twists, which leads her to a spiral of despair to be able to get her daughter Cosette forward in any way, until her life intersects with that of Jean Valjean, with tragic results, as you can see in the following video in which mother and daughter are separated.

The two lives of Jean Valjean and Fantine are presented in great detail in the opening episode in which we see the harsh prison conditions that Valjean must endure after that exorbitant nineteen-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread.

On the other hand, Fantine’s story begins in a happy and carefree way with her group of friends with whom she enjoys life until she is seduced by a married English nobleman who leaves her pregnant to be immediately abandoned, beginning her descent into hell in one of the most tragic literary lives I remember.

Fluttering through those lives we have all kinds of characters that enter and leave their lives, especially the Therardier couple, a couple of very careful leeches who are the main cause of many of the problems due to their abject behavior that includes from usury child exploitation, going through robbery, prostitution or pure blackmail.

The final section of ‘Les Miserables’ is the most spectacular as it makes a great recreation of the Parisian republican barricades of 1832, with the serious clashes that caused numerous casualties among the resisters before the enormous firepower of the French army and from which they can see some scenes in the next cut.

‘Les Miserables’ seemed like a very entertaining miniseries to me, although it hasn’t thrilled me to the level of other works by its screenwriter Andrew Davies, basically due to some rather poorly developed time jumps in the special in the case of Jean Valjean who was alternating periods of poverty and wealth without many explanations for his changes in fortune, beyond a note in the margin to get by, which contrasted with the exhaustive recreation of other details of his life.

At the time, the series did not have the great audience success that was expected in the United Kingdom, partly because of that long shadow of the musical and partly because of that story told a bit in fits and starts, especially in its first half. In fact one of the main complaints of some sectors of the public was the absence of their favorite songs, in the belief that the original was the musical and not the work of Victor Hugo,

In my case, since I have not seen the movie or the musical, I must admit that I found it to be the most interesting to remember my childhood reading of the novel, which has allowed me to remember many details that had faded from my memory in that great luxury entertainment that involves recreating a great classic of universal literature, without having that recent influence.


Shot with a huge budget and a luxury cast, its greatest virtue has been the leading role of a huge Dominic West (The Wire) who is splendid as the protagonist of Jean Valjean in a performance that goes from less to more culminating in a great episode final.

West’s transformation to adapt to the different periods of his life is impressive and shows what a great actor he is, although for many he will always continue to be detective Jimmy McNulty for the rest of his days, forgetting a dozen great performances, including tells this Jean Valjean.

On the other hand, David Oyelowo has not convinced me at all in the role of his antagonist, Inspector Jabert, completely out of place and without ever taking the measure of a very complex character, which Oyelowo simplifies and infantilizes, in a way that seemed unworthy to me. of an actor who has played great characters in ‘Selma’ or ‘Nightingale’.

They should not interpret this rejection of their performance as a matter of race, as many people complained because there were no black inspectors in France in the 19th century, because it is a subject that is completely indifferent to me, as the actor of Pakistani origin Adeel shows me Akhtar who is simply fabulous as the leech that is the innkeeper Therandier accompanied by another great as Olivia Colman as his coarse and boorish wife.

Akhtar is the best example that race does not matter if the actor takes over the character as it happens in this case, while Oyelowo does not find out what Jabert represents in the entire miniseries. Akhtar’s scenes with the famous Olivia Colman are the best of ‘Les Miserables’ and by far, fully justifying its viewing

Another great positive point is the work of Lily Collins as the unfortunate Fantine, with an impressive dramatic load of those that put the heart in a fist with an enormous characterization capacity in a tragic life that surpasses the worst moments of ‘The Tale of the maid’ .

The daughter of singer Phil Collins seems to be into characters living in France, as evidenced by the huge recent success of her slapstick comedy ‘Emily in Paris’ which has made her hugely popular as an American living out her dream of living in the French capital.

Lastly, this great interpretive level is maintained by the young Ellie Bamber (The Serpent) who plays her daughter, the sweet and adorable Cosette in the second half of the miniseries, accompanied by Josh O’Connor in the character of her suitor Marius, another one of those actors who has exploded after his participation in this miniseries thanks to his appearance as Prince Charles in ‘The Crown’, after debuting in ‘The Durrells’


Recalling the classics is always a great option for summer vacations, especially if they are adaptations as neat and polished as ‘Les Miserables’, which you will surely enjoy, so I am going to end the article by reminding you again that you can see it for free on the RTVE Play platform.

We await your opinions and comments, here or on our twitter account (@lmejino). Until next time

Lorenzo Mejino

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