The new Les Mis? Well, it left me bloomin’ miserable! JAN MOIR on the BBC’s new take on the Victor Hugo classic
Early in the first episode of the BBC’s new adaptation of Les Misérables, one character turns to another and says: ‘I wonder if you know how I am suffering.’
Well, darling. My thoughts exactly.
Love it or hate it, the unarguable fact about this classic is that, as it says on the tin, it is completely bloody miserable. From start to finish, from first gunshot to last guillotine, it is grim, grim, grim all the way.
Be it Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, Cameron Mackintosh’s smash hit stage musical or the treacletastic Hollywood version of 2012, you can depend upon Les Mis for gloom piled upon doom in a cruel mille-feuille of human torment.
The show features a range of characters from across class divides but producers were concerned this would not be reflected by regional French accents for a British audience. Pictured are Dominic West as Valjean, left, Lily Collins as Fantine, centre, and David Oyelowo as Javert, right
The BBC version of Les Misérables will feature characters from poor backgrounds speaking in northern accents to highlight class divisions. Dominic West is using his native Sheffield accent for his character Jean Valjean, who goes from criminal, left, to respectable mayor, right
I have wept buckets at all three of them, and I wept again at a preview of this new BBC1 six-part series, which begins on December 30. Although this time for very different reasons.
We open on the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo, a warscape of bloodied corpses and dying horses; the latter fluttering their lush equine eyelashes before carking it on the smoking fields of Europe. Merry Christmas, war is over? Well, not quite.
Soon we are down at the Toulon Prison Hulks, where Jean Valjean (Dominic West) is a slave in chains, cross-hatched with whip wounds and jammy open sores, while sporting an unfortunate beard that makes him look like Fred the maitre d’ from First Dates.
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You think things are bad? They are about to get very much worse.
With its themes of workers’ oppression, social justice, the treatment of women and the redemptive power of love, it would be hard to find a tale that is more politically correct than Les Misérables.
But guess what? It is not quite politically correct enough for the BBC in 2018.
So this version has a super ‘inclusive’ cast and has been given a ‘contemporary relevance’ by writer Andrew Davies, who has floated a homoerotic theme between Valjean and his pursuer Javert, the police inspector played by David Oyelowo, which is about as believable as a bromance between Tom and Jerry.
Valjean, pictured early on in the show when a prisoner, is the central character and the series follows his efforts to make a better life for himself
Olivia Colman also stars as the nefarious Madame Thenardier, pictured, an innkeeper who tries to swindle people out of money
Andrew Davies is an adapter of genius, famed for sexing-up classics for television, such as Pride And Prejudice and War And Peace. Yet has he gone too far this time?
He thinks that Javert was in love with Valjean ‘in a strange way’, and depicts this by the policeman’s lingering looks when Valjean strips naked in an early scene.
To be fair, officer, so did I. For Dominic West’s naked bottom, which makes an appearance in nearly every role he plays, is always a sight to gladden any revolutionary’s heart.
Meanwhile, Davies, an incorrigible old Leftie, is keen to point out that even though Les Misérables is more than 150 years old, it still reflects the injustices and divisions within society today. To illustrate this, he spoke of the beggars he had seen on the streets and the homeless sleeping rough in London.
Yes, it is wholly regrettable that times are tough for these unfortunates. But be fair. Even if you do not like the Tories, it is safe to say things have improved since early 19th-century France.
Single mothers are supported financially and emotionally in society, not shunned like Fantine. There is no way underage Cosette would today be sent to work in an inn, with cruel Olivia Colman making her scrub the hearth.
Fantine, centre, eventually turns to prostitution and Collins said the character resonated with her as a mother willing to do whatever it takes to support her child even at her lowest moment. Also pictured are Ayoola Smart as Zephine, left, and Charlotte Dylan as Favorite, right
Lily Collins plays Fantine, a factory worker who struggles to look after her illegitimate daughter after being abandoned by her lover
West and Oyelowo, pictured, whose characters are locked in a cat and mouse chase throughout the story, said they came to understand them better when they used a Sheffield and London accent respectively
And no one is given 19 years’ hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread, like Valjean. You don’t even get 19 years for murder, Andrew!
So a little bit of perspective wouldn’t go amiss. Meanwhile, there are no songs in this excruciatingly right-on adaptation — no songs!
But even with all the box-ticking snowflakery, the power of Hugo’s epic tale of redemption and uncrushable human spirit does begin to cast its spell.
It is filmed on a lavish scale, with a starburst of fabulous actors and a will to be winning which transcends its demagoguery.
This week, David Oyelowo said of the production: ‘The really radical thing we’ve been doing is to take a 150-year-old novel and transpose it on to English life — to make it relevant to the wide audience we want to speak to.’
David, can I just say something? You don’t mean English, you mean British. And that mistake is really annoying to the millions of Scots (like me), Welsh and Irish who live in the UK, but were not born or are domiciled in England.
We get really fed up when people say England when they mean the UK, which they do all the time. Being politically correct on an epic Les Mis scale is exhausting — but it is a two-way street, for all of us.
Everyone needs a fillip like Philip
Good to see that in Theresa May’s most torrid week in office to date, her husband Philip was with her all the way.
Philip, who quasi-retired from the City to support his wife’s career, was in the Commons gallery watching her on Wednesday.
Before PMQs started, MP Michael Fabricant tweeted that the Prime Minister looked upwards to find her husband, and their eyes met before she got to her feet in the House. ‘It was heart-rending,’ he said.
Philip (pictured right), who quasi-retired from the City to support his wife’s career, was in the Commons gallery watching her on Wednesday
And last month, after another long day of battling those plotting against her, she told the Daily Mail how well he looked after her. ‘Philip cooked beans on toast. And did the washing up!’ In the same interview, she said: ‘I always say he is my rock. It’s hugely important to have somebody there who is supportive of you, not involved in the intricacies of politics, but there to provide human support.’
What a good husband and friend he is! It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do, we all need someone to be there for us when the going gets tough. And to pick up the pieces afterwards.
How the pair of them battle on, cheerful faces to the prevailing winds, I will never know.
Parents who are travelling long distance for Christmas must have sighed (screamed) at Holly Willoughby’s travel plans.
After presenting I’m A Celebrity in Australia, her 23-hour flight back was taken in The Residence on Etihad airlines, according to reports.
For £19,000, Holly had her own living room, double bed, a stand-up shower complete with Aqua de Parma toiletries, plus the services of a butler.
Champagne was served in Vera Wang glasses, meals on porcelain plates and there was even breakfast in bed.
Best of all? Her kids were back in standard first class with her parents, whay hey.
Geordie native Dec bid farewell to the series as he thanked Holly for her time in the Australian jungle
Even from half a world away, the unspooling tragedy surrounding the fate of Grace Millane was difficult to watch.
The TV appeals by her father, his eyes red raw with crying, when there was still hope. Then his — and her family’s — terrible grief when her body was found.
Now they have to endure the horror of a trial.
That is why it is all the more remarkable that these grieving parents have said in a statement that they hope the murder of their daughter won’t stop even one young person from having an overseas experience.
How courageous of them not only to think of others, but to send such a message of optimism in the middle of their own nightmare.
Parents of adventuring backpackers will always worry, but the Millanes are right. You have to let them go and hope for the best.
Knickers to Emily the Insta feminist
She’s a model, she’s an actress, she’s an activist, she’s a swimwear designer — and, for once, she is not Liz Hurley.
Emily Ratajkowski has given an interview to Vogue in which she explains how posing almost naked and pouting like Donald Duck does not detract from her stance as a feminist.
Emily Ratajkowski on the catwalk at Milan Fashion Week in September
She also insists that she is not just a mannequin, she has a voice which she uses to empower her followers on social media.
Okeydokey. However, I’d be more impressed with Emily and other Instagram ‘influencers’ like her if they were more honest about their goals.
For every one political statement on her Insta account, Emily makes about a dozen to promote her various commercial interests.
These include her porno swimsuits, her underwear ranges plus her ‘paid partnerships’ with perfume, shoe and handbag brands.
Surely this is engineered not to empower young women, but to impoverish them by encouraging the purchase of all this rubbish.
‘I have so many things to do. And so much money to make,’ she told her interviewer, who thought she was joking.
‘Then she put on a market trader’s voice and shouted: ‘Roll up, roll up. Get your knickers here. Six for a pahnd.’
Actually, no she didn’t. But what’s the difference?
Don’t mourn our magical meal
Christmas gets harder every year, and not just for turkeys. Down in Bristol, a group of vegans got together to do what they do best; cry over the fate of some innocent animal destined for the dinner table.
The vegans were mourning nine (!) turkeys who had been dispatched to the slaughterhouse from St Werburghs City Farm, just in time for Christmas.
Activist and organiser Sarah Nicol said: ‘The turkeys caught people’s attention because they could see them, felt that they knew them. They were nine individuals.’
Yes, individually delicious — when roasted, basted, served with gravy and (whisper it) pork chipolatas.
St Werburgh’s City Farm in Bristol had originally planned to auction the birds for charity, but the event was axed after the farm came under fire from activists
Vegans are only following their hearts and, really, bless them for caring. Yet isn’t it wrong of them to insist that people feel like they ‘know’ a turkey, even after feeding it some kibble or tickling its wattles on a city farm?
Is there really any intelligent or sentient thought behind those black beady eyes? As I once asked myself after interviewing Robbie Williams.
And who is going to tell these weeping vegans that nine is only a drop in the ocean of gravy? Brits consume ten million turkeys every Christmas, so they are all stuffed, in more ways than one.
Meanwhile, in other feel-good festive news, Cadbury has been accused of sharp practice by selling an Ultimate Selection Box that is 50 per cent more expensive than if the bars — including Crunchies and Dairy Milks — were purchased individually.
Santa! So grasping!
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