This looks like it’s going to be a brilliant adaptation of a complex and fascinating story, as you would expect from Andrew Davies. Great performances all round. No historical bloopers with the scenery. I kept waiting for the characters to burst into song, though! Sorry, I know we’re not supposed to say that, and I know very well that Les Miserables was originally a book (and I know the publication date, because I know that it was published during the American Civil War, which is totally irrelevant!), but I know the musical so well that it was impossible not to compare the two. The musical is incredible. This was pretty good too!
Consequently, what I picked up on were the bits that aren’t in the musical! Obviously that’s not a criticism of the musical: you can only fit so much of a very long book into a stage show.
For a kick off, we started with the Battle of Waterloo. Hooray! My one and only real gripe with the musical is that it doesn’t make it clear at the beginning exactly where in history we are, and I think that’s caused a lot of confusion, with people who are perhaps not overly familiar with 19th century French history getting the impression that the rising is in 1789, not in 1832. So hooray for the historical scene being clearly set! And the character fighting at Waterloo was Marius’s dad. I’m afraid I’ve never read the book, despite having owned a copy for about fifteen years. Oops. I am not proud of this fact, but it’s such a huge book and I’ve got so many other books waiting to be read! So I didn’t know anything about Marius’s background, other than that he was from a well-to-do family, and was fascinated to learn about the pro-Napoleon dad and the pro-ancien-regime grandad. Now we were really getting into Bourbon Restoration era France!
The Thenardiers haven’t really come into it yet, but we’re going to see that Marius’s dad believed that Monsieur Thenardier saved his life. It’s confusing in the musical, because we don’t really understand how Marius and Thenardier know each other.
Then there’s Fantine. In the musical, we only get to know her as a struggling single mother. Everyone knows I Dreamed A Dream, but we don’t actually see the doomed romance, or get to know the girl that Fantine was before she got into trouble. The scene with Fantine and her mates in a bar, on the pull, could have been set today, and yet it didn’t seem anachronistic because it worked just as well two centuries ago. It seemed very Andrew Davies: I don’t know how it’s put in the book, but it was really good.
I haven’t mentioned Jean Valjean or Javert yet, which is weird because they’re surely the two central characters. They didn’t seem as central here as they do in the musical, though. The musical is very much about Javert’s ongoing pursuit of Valjean and the various clashes between the two. I hadn’t realised that the other characters feature so much more in the original story. Both characters were played very well and very convincingly, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them.
Er, so what I’ve done is compare the TV series to the musical. This would really annoy Andrew Davies, who’s claimed that he’s rescuing the book “from the clutches of that awful musical with its doggerel lyrics”. But I hope all the newspaper reviewers compare the two, because Andrew Davies deserves to be annoyed in return for making that remark. It’s a brilliant musical which a lot of people love. There’s no need for him to make nasty remarks like that! The book doesn’t need “rescuing”. But it did need adapting into a mini-series, because the musical, due to time limits, can’t show everything, and I’m really enjoying seeing the bits I didn’t know were there! It was an excellent first episode: there wasn’t one poor performance, and there wasn’t really anything to criticise. Good stuff!