A superb adaptation of the classic novel Les Misérables – without the music
If you’ve never seen the musical, don’t fret, you can start from scratch.
But if you’re a huge fan of the West End production, we have excellent news: this six-part series is everything you want it to be and more.
Dominic West is stunning as convict Jean Valjean, sentenced to 19 years hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread.
In Paris, a young girl called Fantine (Lily Collins, pictured above with Dominic and David Oyelowo) is falling for a man called Felix, but her friends warn her not to be naïve about his intentions…
Once you get over the fact that nobody is going to sing, this adaptation by Andrew Davies (War & Peace, Pride and Prejudice) is an absolute treat.
A profile on Davies follows on BBC4 at 10.05pm.
TV Times rating: *****
During a break in filming, Dominic, 49, reveals what we can expect from this version, and why he dreaded his scenes with The Durrells’ Josh O’Connor…
What made you want to play Jean Valjean?
He’s the best superhero ever written. I’ve played a lot of villains and I don’t find them interesting any more. After a tough start, he ends up trying to be the best man he can be, when all the odds are against him, and he makes goodness interesting, which is quite rare. If he’s not fighting bad guys, he’s climbing out on a ship’s mast to save a sailor, all while battling his own demons.
He has a nemesis, Inspector Javert. How central is that conflict to this adaptation?
Their rivalry is a big part of the story; it’s a cat-and-mouse game. At first we couldn’t figure out why Javert (David Oyelowo) is so obsessed with him, but when David started playing him with a London accent and I gave Valjean a Yorkshire accent, it seemed completely clear what the problem they had with each other was. We did think about French accents, but it sounded too much like ’Allo ’Allo!
Valjean is renowned for being a physically strong man. Did you have to do much preparation for the role?
I did a bit of boxing training in advance, which nearly killed me. The idea was to get really buffed up but, you know, best intentions! There’s a famous scene where Valjean carries a student, Marius, through the sewers, and I was dreading that because Josh O’Connor is enormous! I mean, he’s slim, but he’s 6ft 4in. We got through it though…
Are you a fan of the musical version of Les Misérables?
I’ve never seen it, but I’ve read the book and it’s the best I’ve ever read. It’s incredible storytelling, and deals with timeless themes like guilt and revenge, the fight against injustice and the plight of the poor. It’s a very thick novel though – we’re only covering about 10 per cent of it, and the musical must only fit in about one per cent, I think!