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Les Miserables (1978)

TV film review: Les Miserables (1978), directed by Glenn Jordan

lesmiserables1978Before the popular film-based-on-the-musical, there have been other adaptations of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. This was my first adaptation of the story, and – compared to another one which I’ll be posting a review of at a later date – it’s very detailed. Then again, TV films can afford to be that.

Jean Valjean (Richard Jordan) is poor. He steals a loaf of bread to help feed his sister’s family, but gets caught and is put in jail, where Javert (Anthony Perkins) is either the warden or something similar. Valjean is sentenced to five years.

When those five years are nearly up, the stupid bastard tries to escape, is caught, and a further five years is added to his sentence. Rinse and repeat.

Eventually, he actually manages to escape without getting caught, and gets aided by a bishop to start a new life. And he does, quite successfully. Ten years later, he’s the mayor of a small town … who then happens to hire a new chief of police: Javert. And hey, doesn’t that mayor dude look terribly familiar? (Not as if Javert carries a grudge or anything.)

Valjean takes pity on Fantine the prostitute (Angela Pleasence), and upon her death, seeks out her child Cosette (Joanna Price) and rescues her from her uncaring foster parents (one of which is played by Ian Holm). But, of course, Valjean has to escape because Javert has gone “HANG ON A MINUTE, YOU REALLY ARE VALJEAN! YOU WILL NOT ESCAPE ME AGAIN!” so he and little Cosette flee to Paris.

Some years later, Cosette (Caroline Langrishe) is a teenager, who falls in love with teenage rebel Marius (Christopher Guard). Javert still isn’t sick of his cat-and-mouse game with Valjean, and a revolution breaks out.

Also featuring Cyril Cusack as Fauchelevent and John Gielgud as Gillenormand, Marius’s conveniently loaded granddad.

What I liked about this adaptation is that it seems very comprehensive. While it’s probably not 100% true to the book – what adaptation ever is? – it still features a lot of characters and doesn’t skimp on details. You get the full story, or that’s what it feels like. It better be, if nothing else, considering it’s about 2.5 hours long.

Javert needs to get a life – I mean, trying to pursue someone for several decades just because you’ve taken it as some sort of personal insult that they managed to escape your bullying clutches? Valjean, while technically a sympathetic guy down on his luck who manages to turn his life around, was still very annoying. I mean, he was nearly done with his original sentence, and because he decided he couldn’t wait, he was stuck in there for the same amount of time again. What sort of a strategically challenged dumbass are you? Yes, his imprisonment is extremely unfair, but if he had just stayed put a little bit longer, he would have walked away a free man after the first five years, and that would have been it.

Oh well.

At least all the actors do a good job, and while it’s a depressing and frustrating story, and aforementioned characters could do with a smacked bottom … it’s nice to know what the story is about, finally. Well, in a way. It doesn’t make me jump up and down with excitement shouting “I WANT TO SEE THE NEW FILM BECAUSE THIS STORY IS AWESOME!” – far from it. I still want to see the musical film, because the trailer for it looked great and I like the actors in it, but for the story? Goodness me, no. No, I don’t care that much for it, or for the characters, which is why I’m also not scrambling to the nearest free public domain ebook download site to read Hugo’s words. I just don’t care enough about it.

3.5 out of 5 stolen silverware.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

3 thoughts on “Les Miserables (1978)

  1. You don’t care for the story, Traxy? I always cry when I see or hear of it and my first encounter was when I was quite young with a very old black-and-white version (which I still adore greatly).
    (Soppy of me to cry each time I see even parts of this film. That is also the reason why I keep far away from the new film. But Jean Valjean just does not have an easy fate and even his ending is so very hard and only in consideration of others, not his own well being.)
    I really need to keep my head from thinking about the storyline when I play the music from the musical on the piano.
    And when I think that the connected revolution killed many and reached nothing (perhaps too hard a verdict, but not entirely untrue), I just could cry again.

    1. No, I’m afraid not. Not the story itself. Maybe because I’ve encountered so much fangirling over the new film that expectations of the story itself have skyrocketed … and when actually seeing the story (even in a different version), it just hasn’t lived up to the hype. You first encountered it when you were a child (I guess?), so you had nothing else to go on before that and could make up your own mind. 🙂

      Maybe the book is different as well, as books tend to be better than their filmed adaptations anyway. I was prepared to really like the story, it being a classic and all, but it just didn’t really work for me. It wasn’t bad or anything, I just didn’t really like it personally.

      1. I also don’t like the lovestory in it, as this is the reduced and mostly focused on gloss version in the new adaptions, but I find the fate of Fantine and Jean Valjean just so heartbreaking. They are the characters I follow in the story and who grip me, because they care for the fate of others and put their own well being behind to help others. The couple just selfishly wanders through the whole story and I can’t really say I care for them overly much or see it as a happy ending that they get together in the end. I am much too sad when Jean Valjean and Fantine die, that I never thought the story ended well.
        In a way, I even care for Javert, as his rightfulness is so present in everyone in some way. It is hard to break up one’s supposed rightfullness and see the human depths and be kind to others.

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