PBS Rescues Les Misérables From Musical Melodrama—But It’s Still Out of Tune


Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a novel of concepts—elemental ones about class, politics, gender, the justice system and human nature. That a lot can be apparent if the continuously tailored ebook had been nonetheless wherever close to as common because the melodramatic 1980 musical model, which leapt from world levels to the big screen in 2012. The makers of the most recent adaptation, a six-part BBC miniseries arriving within the U.S. by way of PBS’s Masterpiece on April 14, set out explicitly to revive the novel’s ideological efficiency. “I absolutely hated the musical!” screenwriter Andrew Davies has said. “I just wanted to rescue this great book.”

That is, in any case, the story of two warring males who signify diametrically opposed factors of view on humanity. Reformed prison Jean Valjean (Dominic West of The Affair) is a case examine in Hugo’s perception that kindness and generosity can change an individual for the higher. His nemesis Inspector Javert (Selma star David Oyelowo) pursues Valjean obsessively over the course of 20 years—a campaign pushed by his certainty that crime can solely come out of incurable degeneracy, even when that crime is stealing a loaf of bread so your loved ones doesn’t starve. Destitute, disgraced and friendless, single mom Fantine (Okja‘s Lily Collins) is available as an instance the maddening place of working-class girls in post-Napoleonic France.

Her operatic storyline—which rapidly escalates from a betrayal by the gentleman who fathered her daughter to penury, illness, road prostitution and the promoting of tooth—would be the hardest to adapt in a approach that feels related right now. Regardless of his acknowledged intention of modernizing Les Miz, Davies (a BBC stalwart finest identified for the 1995 Delight and Prejudice miniseries that made Colin Firth as a sexy Mr. Darcy) makes no palpable effort to present Fantine an inside life. Pulled from like to tragedy by forces past her management, she’s a girl outlined by the horrors she suffers. Her plight stays as stagy because it was onstage.

Davies and director Tom Shankland present way more funding in bringing Valjean, Javert and the political chaos of 19th-century France into the current. Not that it’s significantly troublesome to find these parallels. (“So long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless,” Hugo famously wrote in his preface.) “This huge difference between the haves and have-nots still exists,” Davies explained to The Guardian. “People are taking to the streets in Paris right now, but the inequalities are here in Britain too. And you wonder if anything has been learned.” His characters communicate in a lot the identical approach.

For viewers within the U.S., there are further well timed echoes of mass incarceration, the exploitation of underpaid jail laborers and the rise of a younger, fired-up left. The interpretation for 21st-century sensibilities isn’t excellent, nevertheless. It’s thrilling to see the BBC subvert the whiteness of the European canon by recruiting a various solid; nice actors shouldn’t be restricted by the colour of their pores and skin. But, at the very least for People years into the Black Lives Matter motion, casting Oyelowo because the cop to West’s inmate can really feel like a approach of sidestepping the racially biased points of the prison justice system.

It’s simply unlucky that such thematic depth comes on the expense of participating storytelling. Six hours could appear luxurious, however it’s a good squeeze for the 1500-page tome. Because the miniseries jumps from one traditional scene to the following, what’s misplaced within the script, if not within the performing, is the sluggish strategy of character growth. Although their motives are legible, it’s onerous to get a way of Valjean and Javert—and, within the ultimate episodes, the group of radicals whose revolution escalates from the barroom to the barricades—as individuals. The dialogue reduces all of those indelible characters to mouthpieces for factors of view. Extra artistic directing may’ve mitigated in opposition to this flatness, however Shankland (whose course moved nimbly between genres and types within the first season of The Lacking) sticks surprisingly near period-drama boilerplate.

Not that this Les Miz is a catastrophe on par with Russell Crowe singing. As in so many Masterpiece choices, the performances are very good, from West’s wrenching flip as artificial to consider he’s evil to the delicate fragility of Oyelowo’s misguided Javert. It’s a deal with to see current Oscar winner Olivia Colman (The Favorite) and Adeel Akhtar (The Large Sick) play reverse each other in quasi-comic roles as venal antagonists the Thénardiers. Nonetheless, within the inevitable subsequent adaptation, I hope to be taught as a lot about who the characters are as I do about what they imply.

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