July 29, 2019  (Web Review)

Les Misérables

PBS, 2 discs, 360 min., not rated, DVD: $39.99, Blu-ray: $49.99

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel has frequently been adapted for radio, TV, and film (as well as for the stage in the form of the incredibly popular 1980 musical), but time constraints have usually forced severe narrative shortcuts. As was the case with an earlier six-hour French TV version, the miniseries format of this six-part 2018 BBC production aired in the U.S. on PBS’s Masterpiece allows for more expansive treatment. Although it cannot encompass the full scope of the massive original, writer Andrew Davies (Pride & Prejudice) has done an excellent job of pruning and reshaping the story for a different medium in this lavish production, which opens with an impressive tableau showing the aftermath of the battle of Waterloo and continues up through the face-off between revolutionaries and the army at the Parisian barricades in 1832. Naturally, the long pursuit of reformed ex-convict Jean Valjean (Dominic West) by the implacable Inspector Javert (David Oyelowo) holds center stage, but considerable time is also given to the backstories of Fantine (Lily Collins), whose child Cosette is adopted by Valjean, and Marius (Josh O’Connor), the erstwhile royalist who becomes Cosette’s suitor. And the supporting cast is exceptionally strong, with Derek Jacobi as the bishop whose charity puts Valjean on the road to redemption, and recent Oscar-winner Olivia Colman as the greedy Madame Thénardier. Overall, this is a sumptuously mounted, well-acted adaptation of Hugo’s magisterial work. Extras include “making-of” featurettes. Highly recommended. (F. Swietek)