There’s no question – Les Misérables is a literary classic that has spawned phenomenal adaptations, but does the new BBC FIRST adaptation stack up?
The series focuses on three major stories in the opening hour, where war-torn France has been defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. Among a sea of bodies, Baron Pontmercy (Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Indian Summers), a colonel in Napoleon’s army, is accidentally saved from death at Waterloo by a passing looter, Thénardier (Adeel Akhtar, Ghosted).
Baron’s son Marius is staying with his grandfather Monsieur Gillenormad (David Bradley, Harry Potter), who is raising him. Baron returns from the war to see his son, but things don’t go to plan and Baron makes a deal that will have consequences no one could have imagined.
Convict Jean Valjean (Dominic West, The Affair) is nearing the end of his sentence in Toulon Prison after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. Despite doing hard work, Jean makes himself an enemy in prison guard Javert (David Oyelowo, Selma), who is convinced he will reoffend upon release. Haunted by his past, Valjean experiences a brutal life as in ex-convict until a chance encounter with Bishop Myriel (Derek Jacobi, Last Tango In Halifax) could change his life.
Rounding out the major stories of the pilot is the beautiful young seamstress Fantine (Lily Collins, Love, Rosie), who meets the charming Felix (Johnny Flynn Vanity Fair) whilst out dancing with friends. But will her naivety be her undoing, or will she get her happy ending?
This adaptation of the French novel by Victor Hugo, adapted by Andrew Davies, doesn’t feature any songs that we have become accustomed to, but the approach is as faithful to the original source material as possible. It’s a masterstroke here with all three major plotlines given ample screen time without feeling rushed. Casting is also wonderful with Lily Collins and Dominic West being the standouts in the first hour.
Director Tom Shankland does an amazing job of making the location part of the story. Les Misérables may be known as a musical, but Andrew Davies’ dream to tell the story without the soundtrack is an experience in its own right that you need to see. If the first hour is an indication, this is one adaptation we won’t forget in a hurry.
Les Misérables premieres 8:30pm Sunday March 10 on BBC FIRST.