While the return of Game of Thrones is taking all the attention these days, there is another 6-episode television adaption of a beloved novel you should be aware of. This week saw the release of the first episode of PBS Masterpiece’s Les Misérables miniseries.
Though the story doesn’t contain dragons, ice zombies or fighting over the Iron Throne, it is a sweeping and tense period drama that is well worth your attention. Based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, this latest take on the heartbreaking and compelling story promises to be an entirely new adaptation. If you’re looking for something outside of Westeros for your television viewing, see why the Les Misérables miniseries is worth watching.
8 The Story
Certain stories seem to resonate with any audience at any time. It doesn’t matter how old the story may be, the themes and conflicts remain universe for all generations and all people. That is certainly the case with Hugo’s Les Miserables. First published in 1862, the French novel explored such powerful subjects as injustice, morality, and redemption.
The story follows Jean Valjean, an ex-convict attempting to start a new life. It expands across several years, connecting different characters from different walks of life before reaching the climax set against the Paris Uprising of 1932.
7 New Look At A Classic
Hugo’s novel is one that has been adapted a number of times, most recently with the Oscar-winning musical version starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway. However, there is always excitement in seeing some of these classic stories brought to life again and again as we get to see a new version of the story we know so well.
Once again, we are treated to a new telling of the story of Jean Valjean and the world of Les Misérables. We get to see how the filmmakers adapt the complex work. We get to see new takes on famous characters and how the actors portray them. We get to see how this version is unique.
6 The Leads
Even those who are not totally familiar with the story of Les Miserables will no doubt be intrigued by the amazing cast they have assembled for this miniseries. In particular, the miniseries boasts two big names in the leading roles.
Dominic West stars as Jean Valjean, a man trying to put his life together and avoid his past from defining his future. West is best known for television roles in The Wire and The Affair, showing he can bring the necessary intensity. David Oyelowo (Selma) plays Javert, the obsessive police inspector who hunts Valjean. It should be a real thrill to see these two go head-to-head onscreen.
5 The Supporting Cast
If Dominic West and David Oyelowo weren’t exciting enough, they are backed up by a slew of amazing actors in supporting roles. Lily Collins will be playing the role of Fantine, the story’s tragic figure who helps Valjean on his path to redemption.
In other iconic roles from the story, Adeel Akhtar (The Big Sick) will play Monsieur Thénardier, the dishonest (but still master of the house) landlord. And, in a bit of perfect casting, recent Oscar-winner Olivia Coleman (The Favourite) plays Madame Thénardier. Add to that veteran actors like David Bradley and Derek Jacobi, and it’s a pretty enticing cast.
4 Behind The Camera
While there is certainly a lot of star power and great actors in front of the camera, in order for this miniseries to be a success, they need quite a bit of talent behind the camera as well. Luckily, they seem to have found the perfect people for the job to pull off this ambitious production.
The series was written by Andrew Davies, a writer best known for his BBC series House of Cards and A Very Peculiar Practice. He has also adapted several high-profile period miniseries including Pride & Prejudice, War & Peace and Vanity Fair. Directing the series is Tom Shankland, a veteran television director on shows like The Leftovers, House of Cards and The Punisher.
3 Expanded Storytelling
As with most novels, something inevitably gets lost when you adapt it into a two-hour movie. To make a complex story like that fit into the constraints of a feature film means that some things are going to need to be cut. Sometimes this can be done effectively, other times it ruins the adaptation.
For the first time ever, the story of Les Misérables will be told in the expanded format of television. While six hours might still not do justice to Victor Hugo’s entire novel, this version will no doubt go further in depth than any of the previous adaptations.
2 Production Values
Production values can make or break a period production. In order to feel that you are, in fact, experiencing something from another time period, the production needs to look entirely convincing. This can be rather expensive and too much for certain productions to take on. But if it ever feels false it can take the audience right out of the story.
Fortunately, that isn’t the case with this miniseries. There appears to be no expense spared in recreating 19th century France. There is a scale to the production that really helps to capture the grandeur of the story without being overwhelming.
1 Not A Musical
Most people will only know of Les Misérables as the musical. Hugo’s novel was adapted for the stage in 1980 and from there it grew in popularity, was translated into various languages and was adapted into the aforementioned big screen version in 2012.
However, this latest adaption will be of the original novel, not the stage musical. While the musical certainly has plenty of fans, it is refreshing to see a more grounded and straightforward take on the story that could help introduce it to a whole new audience.