Javert’s Old Testament vs. Valjean’s New Testament in “Les Misérables” on MASTERPIECE

PBS presents the epic “Les Miserables” on Masterpiece April 14

MASTERPIECE: “Les Misérables” starring (left to right) Dominic West as Jean Valjean, Lily Collins as Fantine, and David Oyelowo as Inspector Javert. (Photo courtesy of Masterpiece/PBS)

 Sundays on PBS continue to be the destination for great dramas. It has been the night for Masterpiece, one of the most popular drama series in television history, presenting the best in classic adaptations, mysteries, and provocative contemporary works. Rebecca Eaton, the long-time executive producer of the series, reports that Masterpiece can boast of 83 Primetime Emmys and 16 Peabody Awards, validating the quality of the productions in addition to their popularity.

 The Masterpiece lineup for PBS has been captivating viewers since 1971. Most recently their ratings grabbing British series have included Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Poldark, and Victoria. But for the next jewel in the Masterpiece crown, a historic French novel was embraced. A six-part adaptation of Victor Hugo’s literary masterpiece “Les Misérables” is premiering April 14 on PBS.

 Screenwriting legend Andrew Davies has tackled Hugo’s most famous work, and boldly said that he wasn’t scared that the musical version is so beloved by fans. “I’m an old man, I don’t get scared. I’ve faced down many great books in my life. I thought, I’ll just do it the way I see it, a terrific story that resonated so much with the world we live in today.”

 “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862, is set in Paris in the 1840s with poverty, war, revolution, love, and redemption. To bring the great classic novel to life for PBS is a stellar cast that includes Dominic West as the fugitive Jean Valjean, with David Oyelowo as his pursuer Inspector Javert, and Lily Collins as the tragic single mother Fantine. Ellie Bamber and Josh O’Connor costar as the young lovers Cosette and Marius, and Olivia Colman as the nasty Madame Thénardier.

 During the Television Critics Association’s 2019 TCA winter press tour PBS presented an interview panel with members of the great cast and creative team.

TCA 2019 panel for MASTERPIECE: “Les Misérables” (left to right) Rebecca Eaton, David Oyelowo (Inspector Javert), Lily Collins (Fantine), Dominic West (Jean Valjean), and screenwriter Andrew Davies. (Photo courtesy of Masterpiece/PBS)

 Dominic West (from Showtime’s The Affair and HBO’s The Wire) was on hand to talk about playing Valjean, who he called “The best superhero that’s ever been written. I get to play a lot of villains, so it was so refreshing to play a profoundly good man.” The brawny protagonist of the story is imprisoned for 19 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s children. After his release Valjean is relentlessly hunted by Police Inspector Javert who is obsessed with returning him to prison for breaking parole. West noted, “Valjean has his own demons, and he has struggled to do the right thing, the loving thing, rather than the vengeful thing, that’s a hero.” 

 West revealed, “Victor Hugo said this story will have meaning so long as there is poverty. He probably didn’t think 150 years later that there would be so much. The gap between rich and poor, which was so obvious then, led to the French Revolution. I think now we have a much  bigger gap in the world, poverty is still very prevalent. The (story’s) idea of centering on the weak, the dispossessed, and writing a novel about the people who are not the strong leaders and the fortunate, is still quite revolutionary. And I think, for Valjean anyway, the journey is a realization that the weak are the people that give us our humanity. They’re not people to be despised, and that nobody is illegal.”

 David Oyelowo (who played Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma) doesn’t see his Javert role as a villain and explained, “I have played a number of good men in my career, and I was fascinated by this character who is so obsessed in his pursuit of another human being. In his own mind he is not a villain. In fact, he is the hero of his own story. Javert believes ‘I’m the righteous one. I’m the one doing God’s work. I am the law.’ What struck me about him was his Old Testament quality, in relation to Jean Valjean’s New Testament quality of hope and faith in pursuit of redemption.”

 Lily Collins said her character Fantine, a beautiful young girl who is deeply corrupted by a guy and the times in which she lived, will show a storyline over several episodes where she is naive, fun-loving, and falls in love. Collins said, “That’s just a lyric in a song in the musical.”

Tune in MASTERPIECE for Hugo’s “Les Misérables” story that goes much deeper than the musical.

Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.