The intro text tells us that after twenty years of war, France is defeated; Napoleon has been exiled and a new King is waiting to be crowned, meaning the old order will be restored, and the revolution forgotten.
This has certainly been made on an epic scale and looks fantastic, and I’d love to check out a ‘making of’ on this, whether it’s the luscious landscapes or the war-torn battlefield where, notably, it’s pretty grim seeing someone rob from the dead.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of musicals, BUT, this version of Les Misérables has NO SONGS! Some consider that sacrilege, while I consider it “Getting on with the plot” and will be glad they’re not bursting into song every five minutes. As such, I’ve never seen any other telling, nor read the novel, so the story is brand new to me, even though the original Victor Hugo novel has been around almost since time began, or at least, since 1862.
The basics are that The Affair‘s Dominic West is Jean Valjean, known to the prison guards, as Prisoner 24601. He was locked up for 19 years just for stealing a loaf of bread – which sounds a bit extreme, and at the point where we meet him, he has 12 months still to go.
Elsewhere, Felix Tholomyes (Johnny Flynn) is dating Fontine (Lily Collins), but the romantic side of this isn’t very interesting to me, and it’s a bit odd given how not-quite-romantic he was in Beast.
After this, the story moves one year on, and the man with two first names, Jean Valjean, is due for release! Alas, Javert (David Oyelowo) stiffs him on the amount of money he’s due upon his release, after which the ex-con takes odd jobs, but gets stiffed on the payment there, too.
At the point where he popped into Bishop Derek Jacobi‘s house for food and a bed for the night, and then stole all the silverware, effectively bashing the Bishop. Later, when Jacobi states how he doesn’t object to Valjean being a thief, and putting it all down to ‘what God wants’, this felt rather like Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction, not minding that Tim Roth is about to steal all $1500 from his wallet…
So, at the end of episode one, the best thing about this is Dominic West. One of the worst, for this episode, was how the three lead women all squat down in the forest to take a wee at the same time… Why do women ALWAYS go to the bathroom at the same time?! Oh yes, to chat about men and agree how we’re all wonderful and fantastic…. you do, don’t you?
I’ll keep on with this to see how his story fares. I’ll like that no-one – when they’re playing a French character – attempts a dodgy French accent, but I don’t give two hoots for the posh toffs doing the business.
As I stated, I’m brand new to this story, but if I had to hazard a guess at what will happen, it would be this:
UPDATE Episode 2: Amongst what was such a slow-moving episode, I found it rather odd that Javert was so thick not to recognise Valjean when he first met him, and then, it took Eastenders-style soap opera writing in order for the former prison guard to realise what’s going on.
I did find it grim with the street seller offering a set of new teeth, using your own in part-exchange. Bleah!
And about that…
Episode 3: Again, very slow-moving, but when Valjean was on the run from Javert, it was like Porky Pig trying to get one over on Bugs Bunny, but being foiled yet again. Madness.
Episode 4: Another episode, another timezone, as Cosette is now a young woman. Once again, Valjean came up against someone from his past (Thenardier) and, again, they seemingly didn’t recognise him. Even after many years, you’d still recognise someone with whom there was bad blood between you. Okay, so that turned out to be a bit of play-acting, but it still didn’t make sense.
There was also the use of a red hot poker which looked NOTHING like a red hot poker, and more like a rubbish kids toy with low batteries.
Epsiode 5: The initial uprising scene was interesting, but felt like it was over way too quickly, and if they can defeat about 10-15 guards on horseback that quickly, they would’ve been better staying as a mass group as they were initially, rather than dispersing.
Meanwhile, Javert was more of a cartoon baddie than ever.
Episode 6: All the confrontation and battle scenes made for engaging viewing, but like the earlier episodes, the whole jumps in time were really disconcerting as there were no captions to tell us how much time had passed, which I thought would be essential. Otherwise, for example in the finale, in the last few minutes, Dominic West was an old man with grey hair (looking like about 20-30 years had passed), whilst Marius and Cosette hadn’t aged a day.
And I think Javert should’ve had a word with himself rather than take the action that he did in his final scene.
However, as for the rest of it, it was okay, but far from revolutionary (if you’ll pardon the pun), and it just felt like Valjean, Javert and Thenardier’s paths were crossing far too often to be based on any sense of reality.
Oh, and that boy with the afro, who was trilling as he picked the pockets of the dead, in ‘No Man’s Land’ between the baddies and the Resistance? I thought we were promised NO SINGING?! 😉
Episode 1 Score: 5/10
Episode 2 Score: 4/10
Episode 3 Score: 4/10
Episode 4 Score: 4/10
Episode 5 Score: 4/10
Episode 6 Score: 5/10
Director: Tom Shankland
Producer: Chris Carey
Executive Producers: Faith Penhale, Bethan Jones, Andrew Davies, David Oyelowo, Dominic West, Rebecca Eaton, Eurydice Gysel
Adaptation: Andrew Davies
Novel: Victor Hugo
Music: John Murphy
Jean Valjean: Dominic West
Javert: David Oyelowo
Fantine: Lily Collins
Gillenormand: David Bradley
Bishop: Derek Jacobi
Thenardier: Adeel Akhtar
Felix Tholomyes: Johnny Flynn
Pontmercy: Henry Lloyd-Hughes
Nicolette: Emma Fielding
Mabeuf: Donald Sumpter
Favorite: Charlotte Dylan
Zephine: Ayoola Smart
Blachevelle: Matthew Steer
Fameuil: Reece Ritchie
Madame Magliore: Hayley Carmichael
Fantine’s Concierge: Liz Carr
Petit-Gervais: Henry Lawfull
Little Marius: Raphael Bishop
Old Lady: Annie Firbank
Inn Keeper: Andrew Paul
Genderme: Ashley Artus
Sergeant: Chris Brooker
Daphne: Anna Andresen
Prison Hulk Guard: Gordon Wilkins
Chenildieu: Darren Kent
Previously on DVDfever:
Les Misérables is a new 2018 adaptation for the BBC by Andrew Davies.
In 1815, France is on its knees after defeat at the battle of Waterloo. Jean Valjean is nearing the end of his sentence at the prison hulks in Toulon after serving 19 years for a petty crime, and is released by ambitious prison guard Javert. Javert has formed a deep personal hatred of Valjean, a resentment he will continue to bear.
Life as an ex-convict is brutal and Valjean sees prejudice at every turn. Valjean is haunted by his past. An encounter with the wise bishop of Digne forces him to consider his own morality, and the kind of life he wishes to lead.
Little Marius Pontmercy is being raised by his grandfather, old royalist Monsieur Gillenormand. Marius’s father Baron Pontmercy, a colonel in Napoleon’s army, is accidentally saved from death at Waterloo by a passing looter, Thénardier. Pontmercy confronts his father-in-law Gillenormand over his parental rights with tragic consequences.
Meanwhile beautiful Parisian seamstress Fantine is taken out dancing by her friends. They meet some handsome bachelors, and Fantine is drawn to the charming Felix. Fantine’s friends worry her naivety may prove dangerous.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of musicals, BUT, this version of Les Misérables has NO SONGS! Some consider that sacrilidge, while I consider it “Getting on with the plot” and will be glad they’re not bursting into song every five minutes.
Les Misérables begins on BBC1 at 9pm on Sunday December 30th and runs for six weeks.
Dominic West as Jean Valjean
David Oyelowo as Javert
Lily Collins as Fantine
Adeel Akhtar as Thenardier
Olivia Colman as Madame Thenardier
Ellie Bamber as Cosette
Josh O’Connor as Marius
Check out the trailer below:
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.