Post image for DVD Review: LES MISÉRABLES (PBS, 2018)

by Dale Reynolds on August 3, 2019



Boy-o-Boy!!! When Art is flung in your face, you best wear it rather than wash it off for, if nothing else, your long-range emotional sake.

This latest iteration of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel about the struggles of the1830s archconservative French government’s effect on the disenfranchised sections of the country, especially concerning the life of one Jean Valjean, who spent nineteen years behind bars for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s family, his long-term escape and his persecution under the heartless detective, Javert.

In-between, Valjean becomes a solid, rich, citizen, full of angst and regret about his past  deeds, but who has become an upstanding person within his community. The brilliance of Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Hugo’s unwieldy 1,500-or-so-page novel is in the humanization of all the characters, especially that of the highly-driven Javert (David Oyelowo in a rock-solid performance, cementing him as a great actor) and Dominic West’s encompassing performance as Valjean, a man who has transcended his past selfish rages to become a mensch.

The six one-hour episodes allow for much more character and situation detail than, say, a theatre piece could possibly do. Those who are aware of the terrific 1980 musical by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music), and Alain Boubli and Jean-Marc Natel (original French lyrics) as well as Herbert Kretzmer’s English lyric-translations) might just hum the melodies along with the strongly staged actions (especially the brutal Battle of Waterloo), and laugh at the horrifyingly comical take on the strange, much-lower-class couple (the ever-watchable Olivia Coleman and the mischievous Adeel Akhtar as the conniving Thénardiers) who take in the young daughter, Cosette (Mailoy Defoy), of the wronged Fantine (Lily Collins), for money.

The necessary love-interest here belongs to the now grown-up Cosette (Ellie Bamber) and her intense love of one of the young men who are fighting a revolution for the democratic ideals lost to Napoleon and his aristocratic inheritors, handsome Marius Pontmercy (Josh O’Conner).

This is an extraordinary and telling production of a famous piece of 19th-century literature by director Tom Shankland and producer Chris Carey, and given the money and technical expertise it enjoys, this is a worthy addition to your library.

Les Misérables
PBS/BBC (2018)
2 disc, 6 episodes | 372 minutes | no rating
released May 19, 2019
available on Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming at PBS and Amazon

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