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Series / Les Misérables (2018)

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"You belong to God now, Jean Valjean. Go in peace. God be with you."
The Bishop of Digne

Les Misérables is a six-episode miniseries based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, produced by The BBC and Masterpiece. It was written by Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Shankland, and premiered in December 2018.

Like the book, the series follows a number of interrelated characters in 19th-century France. Jean Valjean (Dominic West) is a convict who has spent almost two decades in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Ostracized due to his criminal history, Valjean reforms after being shown compassion by the kindly Bishop Myriel (Derek Jacobi) and becomes a wealthy factory owner. However, the new policeman in the area, Javert (David Oyelowo) used to be Valjean's commandant and suspects his identity.

Valjean fires the lovely Fantine (Lily Collins) from his factory; Fantine dies after she resorts to prostitution to support her daughter Cosette. Valjean takes it upon himself to adopt the girl from her cruel keepers, the Thenardiers (Adeel Akhtar and Olivia Colman) and absconds to Paris, fleeing Javert, who has caught on.

Some years later, Cosette (Ellie Bamber) has grown into a beautiful girl under Valjean's care. She falls in love with Marius (Josh O'Connor), who himself is oblivious to the feelings of the Thenardiers' street-smart daughter, Eponine (Erin Kellyman). Marius's intellectual group, the Friends of the ABC, led by the charismatic Enjolras (Joseph Quinn), are planning a rebellion against the monarchy that proves to have personal stakes for all the characters.

Tropes in this version:

  • Adaptational Dye-Job: This series reverses the blonde Fantine's and the brunette Cosette's hair colors.
  • Adaptational Early Appearance: Marius isn't introduced until the fourth part of the novel, and his family history is delved into then. This series opens on the Battle of Waterloo and Marius being kept in his grandfather's custody in the aftermath. On the street, Col. Pontmercy passes Fantine prior to her employment. This means Gillenormand, Thenardier, Fantine and the Pontmercys all show up even before Valjean.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Valjean. In the book when he robbed Petit Gervais of the coin it is ambiguous whether he is really aware of what he is doing, only realising after Gervais has run away. In the series he clearly knows what he is doing and even pockets the coin, though repents of it quickly as well. He also fires Fantine in person for lying about her child rather than leaving it to the foreman and being ignorant of the situation. His charitable actions are also downplayed, while his relationship with Cosette is far more controlling.
  • Beardness Protection Program: Inverted. Javert doesn't recognize Valjean because he's shaved the thick beard he had in prison and let the hair on his head grow out.
  • Dramatic Pause: When Javert bangs on the door of the convent and demands entrance to search for Valjean, there's one of these where it seems certain that the Reverend Mother is going to allow it. . .only to firmly tell him "No", as no men are allowed to enter. Despite the fact that Valjean is there and is himself a man who broke in and who she has no reason to trust.
  • Fresh Clue: After bursting into Valjean and Cosette's apartment, Javert realizes they can't have gotten far, as the candles have only just been put out.
  • Just in Time: When Valjean and Cosette escape from Javert and his troop, they climb over the convent wall within seconds of them coming around the corner—the camera angle shows her being pulled to safety just as this happens. Had Javert looked up, he would have seen her.
  • The Queen's Latin: The majority-British cast affect The Queen's French.
  • Precision F-Strike: In episode 3, Cosette speaks rather coarsely about a nosy neighbor who pops in on her and Valjean at the inn, calling her a "nosy old bitch". Valjean isn't exactly amused, though he does share her opinion.
  • Race Lift: Since the novel was set in 1800's France, the characters were implicitly all white. Here, Javert and Montparnasse are portrayed by black actors (David Oyelowo and Jumayn Hunter, respectively), while Thenardier's actor, Adeel Ahktar, is Pakistani/Kenyan. Since Mme. Thenardier is played by a white actress, the Thenardier children, Eponine and Gavroche, are played by mixed-race actors and sport natural hair.
  • Timeshifted Actor: As usual, child actors play the young versions of Cosette, Marius, and Eponine before the three converge in Paris.
  • Time Skip: Episode 3 ends with Valjean and young Cosette taking refuge in the convent. Episode 4 picks up roughly a decade later, with a now late-teens Cosette.
  • Wife Husbandry: Present subtextually. Some characters assume Cosette, Valjean's adoptive daughter, is his mistress, and there's a scene where Valjean watches the young girl undress.