BBC and PBS are bringing the classic to television in an adaptation that will be more true to Victor Hugo’s masterful novel.
We might not get to hear the people sing, but any announcement about Les Misérables is exciting for fans of the classic—musical or not. In the case of the upcoming miniseries by Masterpiece PBS and BBC One, we’re getting an adaptation more closely based on the original novel. First look images were released this past weekend showing stars Dominic West (The Wire), David Oyelowo (Selma), and Lily Collins (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) in costume for the first time. Check them out here:
— BBC One (@BBCOne) July 16, 2018
Victor Hugo’s visceral, thought-provoking novel explores themes of socio-economic inequality and political unrest. This world, although set in post-Napoleonic France, strikes a particular chord today in our political climate. With this upcoming Les Misérables series staying so close to the source material we’ll likely get up close and personal with these themes in a way unlike with the 2012 hit movie-musical.
Series writer Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice, House of Cards) also plans on giving audiences a more in-depth look at the years-long conflict between ex-con Jean Valjean and tireless police inspector Javert. Their troublesome relationship begins with Valjean’s imprisonment (all for stealing a mouthful of bread), meeting Javert back when he was just a prison guard. Their endless confrontation develops into a full-on saga of ruthless pursuit on Javert’s part, and Valjean’s many secret identities as he attempts to stay one step ahead.
Dominic West is playing the benevolent yet complicated Valjean, who is perhaps one of the most famous literary protagonists in regards to his journey of ultimate redemption. Witnessing his learning to love once again after the system has failed him so immensely is one of the most inspirational aspects of Les Misérables.
However, on the other side of the coin exists Javert, an equally pivotal character. David Oyelowo is the stubborn and tenacious Javert of this BBC adaptation, a noteworthy casting for a number of reasons. Oyelowo is an exceptional choice as historically almost all onscreen versions of Les Misérables have had all-white lead actors. This is especially true for the story’s top players Valjean, Javert, and Fantine.
As black people, of course, existed in European nations in the past (particularly in France), a fact some period-piece productions as well as audiences and critics seem to forget, a black actor playing Javert is entirely welcome and probable. Oyelowo also has considerable dramatic chops, as we’ve seen in Selma and in his portrayal of an ambitious DA in the crime-drama A Most Violent Year.
There’s still a significant amount of intrigue as to what the actor may bring to the role of Javert, as we have not yet seen him in quite the same dramatic setting (and certainly not in a similar time period) as we will in this series. It’s a fun sort of change in pace that Oyelowo will be on the other side of civil unrest in Les Misérables as opposed to his role as Martin Luther King in Selma. However, as anyone who’s a fan of the Hugo classic will tell you, Javert is not the bad guy of the story. Instead, despite the impression his character initially gives throughout Les Misérables, he is just a product of the system—same as Valjean.
Seeing Dominic West, starring most recently in Showtime’s The Affair, and David Oyelowo face off in Les Misérables will likely be just one of the most anticipated aspects of the series. The variety in the rest of the selected talent so far, including Lily Collins as Fantine and Erin Kellyman from Solo: A Star Wars Story occupying the much-loved character Eponine, bodes well for the project.
Les Misérables is shaping up to be an exciting new assortment of people who are now given the chance to interact with the classic story, and to possibly dig deeper into its themes than before. Many could argue that it’s impossible to make such a beautiful story boring, musical or not. The 1998 version starring Liam Neeson certainly proved non-musical adaptations have the possibility to engage audiences.
The six-episode series will be released this year in the UK, but US fans of the adored drama will have to wait until 2019 to join the barricades of freedom.