There’s a reason Le Mis is at or near the top of most people’s favorite musicals list. Well, not just one reason. Les Mis has everything a musical should have, including the most important ingredient, a potent and big-hearted story that grabs you by the heart and will not let you go.
Les Mis is way up there for me (although “Come From Away” is my current favorite musical), so I was excited to hear that Masterpiece Theater (say it in a British upper crust accent) was doing a six-part miniseries of the book.
Now that I have watched five of the six episodes (DYING for the last episode, though I know it will be rough), I can say that this BBC/PBS lived up to my every expectation. But as a fan of the musical, I wondered how six hours of Les Mis, with nary a person humming I Dreamed a Dream, would go.
It went Magnifique, just to toss in a bit of French. It went so well, dear reader, that my husband didn’t even look at his phone during any episode, he was that riveted. As was I. With crack storytelling, a dream cast, and luminous cinematography, this Les Mis is the opposite of miserable.
Mes dix pensées (My 10 Thoughts):
- I’m scared spitless of Les Miserables, the 2,700-word opus, but I love that this series hews more closely to Victor Hugo’s epic tome, but without all the sidebars. “More than a quarter of the novel—by one count 955 of 2,783 pages—is devoted to essays that argue a moral point or display Hugo’s encyclopedic knowledge, but do not advance the plot, nor even a subplot,” says Wikipedia. SMH. Victor, Victor, what are we going to do with you?
2. Fantine, you are breaking my heart, but then again, you always do. Lily Collins is perfect as the beautiful, dear, doomed Fantine. The scene where she sells her teeth to the hair and teeth seller? BRUTAL. I have mad respect for Collins now; playing Fantine is no walk in the park. and that deathbed scene!
3. I am Jean Valjean! Super strong (to the point of magical realism), flawed, and nearly feral when he finally gets out of the horrific prison hulk after 19 years, Jean Valjean (Dominic West) is as gripping a story character as any, especially since his redemptive arc has biblical proportions. You can’t look away from West as he grapples with the draconian injustice of serving almost two decades for stealing a loaf of bread, and then you can’t look away, period. West’s face expresses more than words, and we as the viewers are aware of his deep sadness, even beneath moments of joy.
4. Javert, just what is your problem? Even though this bad cop has his goodish moments (going after the Thénardiers, for one), his almost creepy obsession with finding Jean Valjean and throwing him back in the hulk defines his very existence. David Oyelowo plays him with grim, simmering ferocity. A little more humanity would have been nice, but then again, who am I to question Victor Hugo?
5. My favorite scene, and one of the most profoundly Christian scenes in all of literature is when Valjean finds safe haven in the home of a bishop, who ultimately shows him shocking mercy and sets him on the path to redemption. You know the one, right, with the candlesticks? Such a scene! Stunning. Derek Jacobi plays the grace-filled bishop with the perfect dose of gentle strength to get through to a broken man like Valjean.
6. My second favorite scene: When Valjean rescues little Cosette from the nefarious clutches of the Thenardiers (played with greasy, greedy brilliance by Adeel Akhtar and Best Actress Oscar winner Olivia Colman). Really, Les Mis is in part an adoption story, a love story between a childless father and a fatherless child. And Valjean finally starts smiling!
7. Seriously, though, the lyrical, gorgeous French names! I have often daydreamed about writing a third baby name book—A is for Anastasia: Baby Names from Around the World. What do you think? J’adore the names Eponine, Cosette, Fantine, and Marius, probably in that order.
8. In a cast with no weak spots, Erin Kellyman as Eponine may be the most transfixing of them all. The Thenardier’s daughter, partly indulged, partly neglected, wholly unloved, poor Eponine falls hard for Marius, though his heart belongs to Cosette. Oh, sweetie. Kellyman’s Eponine is raw, tender, confused, and so human, more fleshed out than the musical’s version.
9. Diversity works like a charm here. With Oyelowo as Javert, biracial Kellyman as Eponine, and Akhtar as Thenardier, it feels a little like Les Mis got a Hamilton makeover, and is the better and more vibrant for it.
10. And the Golden Globe or Emmy goes to…1. Dominic West for best actor. 2.Erin Kellyman and Lily Collins for best-supporting actress (they should both be nominated. Kellyman should win).
Sigh. So, so good. Next time you feel like binge-watching something worthy, look no further than six hours of lush and spellbinding story a la Les Mis, sans music. Our old and no doubt Heavenly friend Victor would say oui, oui to that!