2002 Radio Program (US)
Running time: 3 hours (comprised of 3 hourlong episodes)
Valjean: BRIAN BLESSED — Javert: Geoffrey Palmer — Fantine: Toyah Willcox
Special Guest Stars: Tony Robinson as Thénardier and Leo McKern as M. Gillenormand
Directed by Philip Glassborow
Produced by Focus on the Family
M. Gillenormand: yes
Both Mlle. Baptistine and Mme. Magloire: Mlle. Baptistine only
Thénardiers, after the inn: yes
Sister Simplice: referred to as "Nurse"
Gavroche's brothers: no
Fauchelevant: named Lamont
Mme. Victurnien: no
Petit Gervais: no (!)
M. Mabeuf: no
Toussaint: no. Valjean has two different servants while in Paris, one named Jeanne, the other named Anna. Neither of them stutter
Hugo's original preface used
Valjean is in prison at the beginning
Bishop Myriel remains asleep during the robbery (unknown, the scene dissolves from Valjean going to bed to him being marched back the next day)
Fantine and Félix Tholomyès
Fantine sells her teeth (no, but she sells her hair)
Fantine becomes a prostitute (*) see comments below under "Other Details")
Valjean buries his money (no, but he hides it... where, I haven't a clue)
Fight at Fantine's Deathbed
The ship Orion
Valjean meets Cosette at the well (well, pump, whatever)
The first incident at Gorbeau House
Javert chases Valjean and Cosette (no chase, he just shows up at the convent)
* Through Paris
* On foot
* Car(riage) chase
The second incident at Gorbeau House
Valjean and Cosette see the chain gang
Lamarque's funeral is shown or mentioned (are you kidding?)
Chase through sewers
Story continues after Javert's suicide
Marius, after learning Valjean's history, treats him badly
Correct number (not only is 24601 mentioned, but so is 9430!)
Works in the galleys
The factory makes glass beads (mention of jewelry, but not jet)
The doll, Catherine
The garden at Rue Plumet (Rue who?)
Correct address (no... but later there is 7 Rue de l'Homme Armeé, even though it's pronounced badly)
The Luxembourg Garden
The town's name is Montreuil-sur-mer (it's Montreuil, also pronounced badly)
The man Valjean saves in Arras is named Champmathieu
Valjean's name becomes Fauchelevant (nope, Lamont)
Eponine/Gavroche as Thénardier's child (Éponine yes, Gavroche no)
C A V E A T
Just so you all should know, I really, really hate Focus on the Family. To me they represent what Victor Hugo was writing about in this book, the hypocritical
theocracy that preaches charity and compassion but practices hatred, bias, condemnation and division—the same kind of hypocrites that railed against the book when it first came out for being
"irreligious" and "socialist." The kind of people I generally refer to as "assholier-than-thou."
I'm trying to review the production as presented, but it's very difficult in any situation to see only the story. I often have to remind myself that Victor Hugo himself
was a real jerk in his personal life, but he was a heckuva writer anyway, and in order to review art one has to separate the art from the producer. I'm sure I'm going to push some buttons,
but my opinions are my opinions and that's why we each have different ones. I respect my readers too much not to give them a heads up in advance about this.
P R O D U C T I O N N O T E S
Yet another radio play, this one has has a big budget feel in terms of production values. The series is prefaced by producer Dave Arnold, who gives a very brief
background about Hugo and his book, and at the end of the series makes great use of the "there is one thing greather than the sea" quote and describes the theme of conscience
that pervades the work (which is actually ironic; see the Stickies below). There are three hour-long episodes; the first covers up to Fantine's death, the second from Cosette's rescue to the
barricade, and the third (and least plot intensive of the sections) goes to Valjean's death.
The casting, while superb as far as name recognition of actors goes, does have its faults, including a major one: nobody appears to be able to pronounce very basic
French words. Fantine calles M. Madeleine "monshur" and Gavroche refers to guardsmen as "monsoors." Valjean mispronounces "Cannes" as "cans" (cahn vs. can) and "Montreuil" (mon-TROY) as "Montrowey"and gives his address as "number seven, rue de Lom Arm."The guy
playing Javert probably has the best pronunciation, but even that is flawed. More on the cast below.
As for the other details of the plot:
- Narrative plot device in this version is actually kind of cool, it is the letter Valjean writes to Cosette at the end, but of course instead of the brief "this is how to make jet beads"
letter it is "this is the story of my life" letter. It works in many ways, but there are parts that are downright grating and preachy (especially the part where Valjean claims to have been
"born again"). Part of the reason is the producers, naturally, but the main reason is that the narrative technique relies on telling the story using Hugo's author-voice as opposed
to Valjean's character-voice. It does a great service by allowing first-time Les Misérables audiences to understand the scope of the work, but it does a great disservice by
putting words in Valjean's mouth that he would never dare utter himself.
- So many little fiddly bits are right (Valjean's numbers, both of them; Valjean said to be born in Faverolle, Champmathieu—er, Lamont—arrested for stealing apples; Valjean's cart
loses a wheel on the way to Arras; Cosette rescued on Christmas eve; Cosette's real name is Euphrasie, etc.) and yet so many major points are wrong (Valjean's infamous pursuit
through Paris to the convent becomes Valjean just knocking on the door and hoping "Lamont" will let him in; Valjean and Cosette run a soup kitchen at which Marius is a frequent
visitor; it is suggested that Marius's barony comes from M. Gillenormand and he won't be a baron until he reconciles with his grandfather; the whole barricade situation which is
- As in other radio plays, this one has to solve the problem of conveying Javert's and Valjean's separate inner thoughts without interior monologue by resorting to the out-of-left-field
confidante. As Mayor Madeleine, Valjean's confidante is a man named "Dilbert"(pronounced "dil-BEAR", but still, I imagine the turned up a guy in a tie and pocket protector...) and before
Javert kills himself he for some bizarre reason feels the need to bare his soul to... the coach driver!
- When Cosette is taken from the Thénardiers, she confides to Valjean her secret wish: to go to school! Yeah, right. Gimme a break. Cosette does repeat this however when Valjean
takes her to the convent (St. Catherine's, it's called; I guess they ditched the doll's name for this and considering the bad pronunciations probably thought it best to avoid "Picpus").
The weird stuff is, the mother superior knows Valjean and Cosette are wanted by the police yet still takes them in; she asks for Cosette's papers as they're leaving ten years later, and
Valjean explains that "so many papers were lost during the Revolution,"which is funny considering the revolution took place 30 years before Cosette was born so the explanation
means nothing, and the nun just signs a paper on faith and this serves as Cosette's de facto birth certificate...despite the fact that she knows they're fugitives and this not only
makes her a liar, it makes her a forger and an abettor!
- This last one bothers me the most: when she is arrested, Javert calls Fantine a prostitute. She swears up and down that she is not one, implying that she is (as in some other versions)
merely a vagrant. And yet through the series whenever he mentions her Javert refers to her as "the prostitute,"in a manner suggesting that he is not calling her what she is, but using it in a
derogatory manner, as an insult. This makes no sense in the context of the story; Javert will call something as he sees it but without inherent malice (Geoffrey Rush's Javert had the same
problem), just as he wouldn't call a thief a murderer, it's verbally framing someone for a crime they have not committed. Why, then, was this done? If the writer wants to say in this version
she's not a prostitute, why not leave it at that? My theory for the reason is this: as with some other tweaking to the storyline to make this more palatable to the intended audience, Fantine's
being a prostitute is unacceptable in terms of story, especially with the manner of her death and redemption. Since she never actually repents of her having sold herself—for her the ends
justify the means, and she was glad to sacrifice herself to save her child—or for that matter for having a child out of wedlock, it is unacceptable that she be redeemed at the end. Her sins are
not like Valjean's sins; he stole bread to feed his family, but nothing forced Fantine to sleep with Tholomyés. The alternative to this sticky situation is to simply remove that from her character
description. Which would be fine, as it's been done in other versions (most notably in the children's versions), but then why from the writer's point of view is it okay for Javert to use the word
as an insult?
C A S T N O T E S
BRIAN BLESSED as Jean Valjean. I would have thought this would be a good match, but surprisingly it's disappointing. Blessed's robust basso is wonderful, but in this case
it's jarring. Valjean sounds like Father Christmas, and what's worse, BRIAN BLESSED plays him jovial and sly. The thing about Valjean is that there isn't a false bone about him: when he's a convict
before his transformation he is genuinely angry and forthcoming; when he becomes a changed man he is open and honest even when he's assuming another alias. The most patent example
of this is during the sewer scene when Javert confronts him, Valjean makes a smarmy comment about Javert going "from inspector to spy back to inspector." Javert threatens to shoot them
both and for once I was rooting for him to do so.
I have nothing really to add about Geoffrey Palmer's Javert, it's very nice. I think the word I'm looking for is "adequate." There's nothing really wrong with his presentation,
but there's nothing really spectacular about it either.
Thénardier. Ah yes. Voiced by Tony Robinson, one of my favorite guys ever, one would think this would be a shoe-in. But for some stupid strange reason he's speaking
very low and in a monotone; I had to turn up the sound to hear him in the initial segments with him in the inn. Even at the end when trying to con Marius out of his money, Marius tells him
he knows what information Thénardier has, but Thénardier's tone never changes! This could have been so cool, darn it all.
Young Cosette is charming. Older Cosette is very cold, there's no real feeling of vivaciousness about her. Sister Sarah from "Guys and Dolls" was a more compelling
charity worker; at least you felt that she cared about her job.
M. Gillenormand. Weird choice of casting on this one. Leo McKern is more famous for two other roles: that of the lead in the long-running Mystery! series
"Rumpole of the Bailey" and, even more obscure, as the only actor during the run of Patrick McGoohan's 60's series "The Prisoner" to play the ubiquitous Number Two more than once.
He passed away recently, one of the really great British character actors of the last century. It's my own fault that every time he spoke a word as M. Gillenormand I kept imagining him
referring to Mlle Gillenormand as "She Who Must Be Obeyed."
T H E B E S T T H I N G S A B O U T T H I S V E R S I O N
- The Blackadder Connection: Each of the three main actors also had a role in one of my favorite series of all time, Blackadder. Tony Robinson of course played
Blackadder's sidekick Baldrick throughout each of his incarnations. BRIAN BLESSED played Edmund's father the
king in the first (medieval) season. And Geoffrey Palmer played Field Marshall Dougie Haig in the final episode of the fourth and final (World War I) season. If only they could have
gotten Miranda Richardson to play Fantine. Or Rowan Atkinson to play Monsigneur Myriel. Or Hugh Laurie to play Enjolras. Or...
- Valjean's death at the end which was originally caused by his great grief at losing Cosette (which is very 19th century and noble but in this day and age is almost ridiculously
melodramatic) now has a simpler, why-didn't-Hugo-think-of-this-himself explanation: he got ill from running around in the sewer! D'oh!
- The funniest gag has to be that during the Gorbeau House affair, instead of a note being slipped under the door ostensibly from Éponine reading "The cops are here," what's
slipped under the door is... Javert's calling card! Great new twist to "Would you like my hat?"
T H E W O R S T T H I N G S A B O U T T H I S V E R S I O N
- The barricade. Ah yes, the barricade. Enjolras is present, but apparently he has only one real follower, a guy named "Jacques" who appears to be a combination of Grantaire and
Courfeyrac. Jacques acts as Marius's confidante in places and yet he as the listless who-gives-a-crap attitude of Grantaire in his more drunken moments. This makes it ridiculous when
at the barricade Enjolras is exhorting his followers and Jacques sniffs that it all sounds "inconvenient and painful" and bails for the rest of the show, leaving Enjolras to whine about his
failed revolution. Enjolras dies on the barricade like Cerebus, alone, unmourned and unloved.
- Gavroche sees spent cartridges on the ground and goes to pick them up, saying that they can refill them with gunpowder. Heaven forbid that the kid pilfer live cartridges from dead
soldiers, as in the original. But that's not the half of it...
- Enjolras takes Valjean into the wine shop where the bodies of the dead students are (and where Javert is being held) and asks Valjean to search the bodies for bullets they can use.
"It's a distasteful thing, but..." Then Valjean sees Javert, and Enjolras explains that he hasn't killed Javert yet because "I don't have the stomach to kill in cold blood..." and then asks
Valjean to kill Javert for him! I am not making this up!
T H E S I L V E R C A N D L E S T I C K A W A R D S ( " STICKIES® " )
And the awards go to....
- Best Imitation Of A Character From South Park: Jacques bails on Enjolras at the barricades with all the aplomb of Eric Cartman saying "screw
you guys, I'm goin' home"
- Best Overkill Of A Major Character: Right before the splash as Javert goes into the Seine, you can clearly hear a gunshot.
- Worst Rewrite Of A Famous Line: When M. Madeleine goes to free Fantine, he tells Javert that "The highest justice..." The answer is "is conscience."
But he in fact says "The highest justice allows for mercy." He in fact says this more than once during the show. Which is hilarious when at the end of the series the producer talks about
how important the theme of conscience is. If it was so darned important, why change the line?
- Most Obvious Omission For The Most Obvious Reason: During the trial, instead of three witnesses against Champma... I mean Lamont, there are
only two. Now, any serious reader of the book will immediately guess who was left out, and why. For the rest of you: the three convicts are named Brevet, Cochepaille, and Chenildieu. The
correct answer is of course Chenildieu, pronounced "Je nil Dieu," or "I deny God," which if they had so much trouble allowing Fantine to be a prostitute you can imagine that they didn't dare
put this guy in the show.
W H E R E T O F I N D T H I S V E R S I O N
I would imagine that it's available almost anywhere.
UPDATE 2010: I finally got a good looking scan of the cover art and... who the heck is that? I can tell you who it's not; it's not BRIAN BLESSED