Les Miserables: BBC Six-Part Series, Starring Dominic West, David Oyelowo and Lily Collins

The French writer Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables in 1862, and over the past century and a half there have been numerous versions, in wide variety of forms and languages.

The book is one of the longest ever written.  The new six-part PBS Masterpiece limited series “Les Misérables,” a music-free offering, aims to introduce the novel’s intricate themes and complex plots to new (and older) audiences in a more intimate setting.

Dominic West, David Oyelowo and Lily Collins star in the ambitious production, which already aired on the BBC.

The classic has been told many times, on stage, big screen and small screen.

Producer and scribe Andrew Davies felt it was important to tackle the novel in today’s political climate.  He and executive producer Faith Penhale discuss those challenges.

Why Now? Why Again?

Penhale: We thought there was an opportunity to tell the story as Hugo intended with a serialized adaptation. Instead of having short time, we had six hours to really dive into all of the themes and all of the characters as Hugo originally intended.

It’s a vast novel (900 pages).  Working on a TV adaptation, and in the serialized form, you get the space: You get the opportunity to really tell stories with the breadth and the depth that you just don’t always get.

Also if you really dig into the story of “Les Misérables” and look back at when Hugo wrote the book, he wrote it to tell the story of the underclass who were living with no safety net. He wrote it not just about France, but as a story for the world.

Some of those themes and questions resonate today in the challenging times we live in. We had the opportunity by having the story to connect with today’s modern audience.

Davies: There are parallels between Paris then and London or America today. There seems a widening of the gap between rich and poor, a society where we have seen homeless people begging in the streets as opera-goers step over them.

I wanted to show the book as a whole as distinct from the slice of it that we get in the musical. I started working on this before I ever saw the musical so I already had my version in outline.

I was startled by how shallow and partial the presentation of the book in the musical was, how little drama there was in it. There was a big opportunity and a chance to either introduce the story to people who didn’t know it, or to show people who only knew the musical there was a lot in the book they haven’t seen.