The history of the French revolution repeats itself, as PBS debuts the first trailer for this spring's upcoming Les Misérables miniseries. The six-part adaption of Victor Hugo's epic masterpiece has already aired on the BBC to rave reviews, with some suggesting the drama is far superior to the musical of the same name. The series was written by Andrew Davies, who is best known for his adaptions of Middlemarch, as well as both the first seasons of BBC and Netflix versions of House of Cards, and, more recently, the recent remakes of War & Peace and Vanity Fair.
The line up of A-list talent starring in the series is equally impressive, with Dominic West as Jean Valjean and David Oyelowo as Javert, plus Lily Collins as Fantine, Olivia Colman as Madame Thénardier, and Derek Jacobi as Bishop Myriel. However, you won't be hearing any of them singing the songs of angry men or otherwise. This miniseries is a straight drama adaptation of the famous story, attempting to do Hugo's novel justice as a realistically styled period piece covering the early 19th century in France, from 1815 to the June revolution of 1832.
Check out the trailer:
Having a hit musical made about the story you're adapting is a mixed blessing, as it means most people have not only heard of Les Misérables but know the story before tuning in. The downside is most assume any adaptation is going to involve someone dreaming a dream of times gone by, castles on clouds, and grand multi-octave showstoppers proclaiming there's only one day more. None of this is happening in Davies' adaptation. That's because he has deep feelings about the musical, none of them good.
At the Television Critics Association press tour earlier this month, Davies was emphatic about how little he cared for the stage show.
I absolutely hated the musical! I just wanted to rescue this great book.... It’s all about stuff like redemption. I started off my life being brought up in a very religious way, which I don’t have any more, but I do that a kind of yearning for the kind of absolutism that is in this book. It was strangely appealing to me. I am an old man. I don’t get scared. I have faced down many great books in my life. I did subsequently go and see the musical and thought, ‘Well, that’s their take on it.'
Davies may not care for the musical, but some of the cast doesn't feel the same way. Oyelowo, for one, covered his entire face with his hand in horror at Davies pronouncement and mouthed "Nooooooooooooo."
Collins, on the other hand, pointed out that by not condensing the story into musical numbers, one gets to see more of it played out, saying "We got to take a lyric in a song and make it into an episode." She did admit to not having read the book, but she knew the musical well enough to make references to it, including starting one answer with "At the end of the day...."
West was more enthused about the chance to play a part like Valjean, which he called "enriching in every way."
People approach David (Oyelowo) when they want someone to play a good man. They approach me when they want the opposite... I get a lot of villains and it was so refreshing to play a hero who is a profoundly good man. And I only want to do that from now on. I really do. Living with Jean Valjean is a wonderful experience.
Though perhaps his lack of strong feelings comes from not having read the book or seen the musical. As for Oyelowo, when given a moment to speak at the end of the session interjected: "Can I just say, I love the musical. For the record." But he also loves this adaptation too and praised the period detailing that went into the creation of this particular Les Mis world.
Les Misérables premieres on Masterpiece on most local PBS stations on Sunday, April 14, 2019, at 9 p.m. As always, check your local listings.