19 years for bun theft? You’d be too

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - FOOD -

An­drew Davies’s six-part adap­ta­tion of Les Misérables, Vic­tor Hugo’s 1862 novel, which runs to around a mil­lion pages or some­thing, has been nec­es­sar­ily dis­tilled. There are no songs but, and I know this will come as a sur­prise to some, there weren’t any in the book ei­ther. Still, it is odd. What is the point of Fan­tine if she doesn’t get to sing one great song be­fore she dies? And dream a dream? Yet, hav­ing said that, it isn’t too dis­tilled. If it were too dis­tilled we’d all see it for what it is, which is, surely, just a lot of fuss about a mi­nor pa­role of­fence. So it is dis­tilled just right. It is bril­liantly dis­tilled, even. A tri­umph. Al­though I may feel dif­fer­ent when ev­ery­one song­lessly gath­ers at the bar­ri­cades, ob­vi­ously. I don’t even know what songless bar­ri­cades would look like, to tell the truth.

The West End mu­si­cal ver­sion is the UK’s long­est run­ning mu­si­cal, and has been seen by 70 mil­lion peo­ple in more than 40 coun­tries – sit on that, Cats! – plus, Hol­ly­wood made a film of it in 2012, al­beit a poor one. (A stel­lar cast but none of them could sing apart from Ed­die Red­mayne, a bit.) So how can this bring au­di­ences back to a story they al­ready know? What can it of­fer? A stel­lar cast that isn’t forced to sing. That has to be up there. Plus there are some ter­rific lines – ‘she will be happy to see you and your mag­nif­i­cent trousers’ – and with six hours to play with, you do get a far bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the char­ac­ters. Not as much as if you’d read the book, but that is a mil­lion pages or some­thing.

The first episode deftly in­tro­duced us to all the main play­ers, in­clud­ing our pro­tag­o­nist, Jean Val­jean (Do­minic West), who is break­ing rocks in a Toulon prison while serv­ing the last 12 months of his 19-year sen­tence for steal­ing a loaf of bread. West’s Val­jean is Hulk-like, mag­nif­i­cently bearded and mag­nif­i­cently boil­ing with ha­tred and de­fi­ance, as can hap­pen, one sup­poses, if you’re go­ing to get 19 years for steal­ing a bun. David Oyelowo plays his neme­sis, Javert, the prison guard. Some view­ers com­plained that there was no way Javert would be African, but as we are watch­ing English peo­ple play­ing French peo­ple who hap­pen to be speak­ing English, those who wish to have ar­gu­ments about eth­nic­ity are on thin ground. Davies, who adapted Ph­woar & Peace, and that wet-shirted Pride And Prej­u­dice, is famed for hom­ing in on erotic con­tent and mak­ing these adap­ta­tions ‘sexy’, so tell me: when Val­jean had to strip for Javert on his re­lease from prison, that look Javert gave him? Ho­mo­erotic? Is this why Javert re­turns Val­jean’s mag­nif­i­cently boil­ing ha­tred? Be­cause he’s at­tracted to him and can’t face up to that? You may or may not buy this, but you can’t say Davies isn’t mak­ing us think about the char­ac­ters afresh.

Mean­while, across town, so to speak, the young grisette Fan­tine (Lily Collins) and her friends have fallen in with that trio of rich boys. The friends had warned her not to get in too deep with her own par­tic­u­lar beau, Felix (Johnny Flynn) – he’s just amus­ing him­self be­fore re­turn­ing home to marry some­one posh – but he is dif­fer­ent, she keeps hop­ing. Fan­tine can come across as a fool, but here Collins brings her in­no­cence and sweet­ness to the fore, al­though why she speaks like she’s been to Roedean when her friends are all Cock­ney, I don’t know. Felix does aban­don Fan­tine, and that scene in the restau­rant when the let­ter ar­rives to say he’s gone was truly heart­break­ing. In­deed, in such cir­cum­stances, there may be no sad­der a PS than: ‘The meal is paid for.’

As we left it, Val­jean had been freed from prison and set on the path to good by Bishop ‘take my can­dle­sticks’ Myriel (played by a won­der­fully scene-steal­ing Derek Ja­cobi), and even though this is a story I al­ready know, it feels re­born. Also, there is still Olivia Col­man to come.

Davies, now 82, is the great­est tele­vi­sion adap­tor of all time, but if you were look­ing for any true in­sights they weren’t to be found in An­drew Davies: Rewrit­ing The Clas­sics. The talk­ing heads largely said what we al­ready know. He is bril­liant at tak­ing what’s im­por­tant from an orig­i­nal source and dis­card­ing the rest. He of­fers ‘a fiercely clear at­ti­tu­di­nal take’. He vis­ited his old school and his child­hood home but this pro­file only perked up when he men­tioned he started writ­ing as a means of un­der­stand­ing his mother, who was ‘a com­pli­cated wo­man’, but no one then asked him about that. I was scream­ing at the tele­vi­sion: ask him about his mother, ask him about his mother, for God’s sake, what was it with his mother? It may be he didn’t want to talk about his mother, but they should have had him say that. In short: a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of char­ac­ter was not achieved in this in­stance.

Do­minic West and David Oyelowo in Les Misérables

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.