Updated September 30, 2021.

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Les Misérables has several shades of meaning in French. Translators say that Victor Hugo’s novel, released in 1862, could just too be titled The Miserable Ones, The Outcasts, The Wretched Poor, The Victims or The Dispossessed.

But v its emotionally lucrative musical adaptations, Les Misérables is therefore strongly associated with “rousing score and also libretto,” and “epic search for justice in France” that the location – often reduced to its nickname, “Les Mis” – has actually lost several of its punch.

PBS it is provided a bruising wallop in the miniseries Les Misérables top top Masterpiece, led by gibbs Dominic West and David Oyelowo. The characters’ plights within society and the cat-and-mouse tension between escaped judge Jean Valjean and also Inspector Javert unfold without any type of melodic note of relief. In ~ times, the manufacturing is harder to watch 보다 a fear flick, whether we’re flinching at the storyline’s cruelty, poverty, blood or self-sacrifices.

Hugo wrote about his very own time in the 1,500-page tome the Les Misérables, set between 1815 and also 1832, yet in that is preface he created a article to future reader for the ages:

“So long as ignorance and poverty exist ~ above earth, publications of the nature the Les Misérables can not fail to be of use.”


Below room some main characters as watched in the PBS series. Spoiler alert to those unfamiliar through the plot!

The Outcast: Jean Valjean


Jean Valjean (DOMINIC WEST). Photo: Robert Viglasky (C) Lookout Point

To the government and also society, Jean Valjean (Dominic West; The Wire) will forever be a criminal, much more feared because that what the ex-convict may have become after 19 years of hard labor than for his original crime: steal a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s impoverished children.

Long prior to social assist like food stamps, soup kitchens, or public schools, allow alone breakfast programs because that children, Jean Valjean’s very first offense led to a sentence of five years, which prolonged to 19 years because that his to escape attempts.

He grows solid instead that weak after breaking rocks and living in horrible conditions on a disease-ridden prison boat. But dangerous work and also the beatings from prison guards have left his challenge a raw, red collage the sunburn blisters, cuts and also scars.

After his release from Toulon jail he must bring a yellow passport that identifies him together an ex-convict, which will certainly hurt his possibilities for work. Also after a bishop offers him means with i m sorry to do a new start, he robs a boy. He will certainly soon attain success under a new identity, and dedicate himself to being a far better man. Yet for his last crime, he is a pursued man. He proceeds to check out the human being as “lies, violence, and cruelty.”

The Wretched Poor: Fantine


Episode 2. Together to r: Javert (DAVID OYELOWO) and also Jean Valjean (DOMINIC WEST) through the assumed surname of Monsieur Madeleine argue end the fate of one ill Fantine (LILY COLLINS). Photo: Laurence Cendrowicz(C) Lookout Point

Beautiful, naive and illiterate Fantine (Lily Collins) has never known any kind of family and also grew up on the streets. She operated her way to Paris together a teenager and also supports herself as a seamstress. She is seduced by a playboy college student bachelor, that supports their love kid until he finishes his researches in Paris and abandons her.

Who have the right to guess exactly how many solitary mothers and also their kids fell into abject poor in the 19th century?

After leaving Paris v her daughter Cosette, Fantine realizes she must component with her only flesh and blood in order come work. Based on a first impression of a family members she sees, she entrusts Cosette come the care of the crooked innkeepers Monsieur and Madame Thérnardier and also sends castle money virtually beyond she means, regularly.

But the Thérnardiers keep lying and also demanding much more payments that Fantine can not make. She loser her manufacturing facility job (fired through Jean Valjean for lying around having a child). A traveling vendor convinces her to market her long hair and also her perfect 2 front teeth, which leads to a horrific scene after i m sorry Fantine’s challenge is often streaked with blood.

She becomes ill and works as a prostitute, and also is double scorned for her sickly appearance. She is arrested by Javert for assaulting a would-be customer who taunts her, however after collapsing, she is automatically taken come the regional hospital. Deathly ill, she clings to life only because a remorseful Jean Valjean has promised to carry Cosette to her. That fails and she dies never ever seeing her beloved daughter again.

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Episode Two: Fantine (LILY COLLINS) is searching for work, moving Cosette (MAILOW DEFOY). Photo: Laurence Cendrowicz(C) Lookout Point

Cosette’s doting mom leaves her through the strangers Monsieur and Madame Thérnardier (Adeel Akhtar and also 2019 Academy Award-winner Olivia Colman) shortly after meeting them. Cosette is only about three, however for the next 5 years, the lazy and cruel innkeepers physically abuse her together their servant and barely provide her sufficient clothing or a location to sleep. She has actually no childhood next from her age. Even the patrons that the tavern howl with laughter when Madame chases and beats Cosette through a belt. There is naught of the musical’s comic relief (“Masters that the House”) once it involves these evil innkeepers. The good news is, Cosette will ultimately be rescued by Jean ValJean.

The Miserable One: Javert


Episode One, l to r:Jean Valjean (DOMINIC WEST) encounters his nemesis Javert (DAVID OYELOWO). Photo: Robert Viglasky(C) Lookout Point

Javert (David Oyelowo; Selma) is a solitary, obsessed legislation enforcement officer because that whom there is just right and wrong. As a jail guard, the admits to “Prisoner 24601” (Jean Valjean) that he was in reality born in a jail to criminals. Comparing self to Jean Valjean, he claims with superiority, “Men favor us have actually only 2 choices: to prey on society or to guard it. You determined the former and also I determined the latter.”

He despises Jean Valjean and is perplexed every time he witnesses Jean Valjean bravely concerned the help of a human being in distress. It doesn’t include up in his book.

Javert does not believe in using person judgment in legal matters; there is just the letter the the law. Together he rises from prison guard in Toulon come Chief Inspector of Paris, he have the right to take no satisfaction in his achievements while Jean Valjean is cost-free under presume identities.

But Javert is no a boring, dried figure. He is cruel and takes pleasure in flaunting his strength over others. He is unable to acknowledge that some world are forced into criminal habits by circumstance, no a evil nature. And his obsession v punishing Jean Valjean blinds his rationality. If a third transformation is stirring in the roads of Paris, that opts to put his policemans on the case of detect Valjean.

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In a recent appearance at brand-new York City’s build Series, David Oyelowo described that Javert’s behavior and beliefs are rooted in self-hatred:

“He has a deep feeling of self-loathing around his beginnings (in prison). A hatred for wherein he came from. He transposes the onto Valjean.”

Watch all 6 episodes the Les Misérables ~ above Masterpiece utilizing the member benefit sdrta.net Passport.

More elevator on Les Misérables

For a fun crash course in French history that renders clear i m sorry uprising we’re see in Les Misérables (it’s not the French Revolution) and also inserts the occasions of the novel within a timeline, review the short article, No, It’s not Actually the French Revolution: Les Misérables and history by Susanne Alleyn.