Ultimately, the story of Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’ is one of transformation — where a career criminal, Jean Valjean, becomes a man of good, and one where his pursuer, Javert, becomes consumed with the notion of revenge.
For David Oyelowo, who plays Javert in the BBC’s new adaption of the Hugo classic, the role offered a change to take a 150-year-old novel and impose it on European life that is now facing some of the same as penned by the French writer.
“The really radical thing is that what we’ve been doing is to take a 150-year-old novel and transpose it on to English life,” Oyelowo said when Gulf News tabloid! caught up with the rising star on a rainy night in the British capital. “The reason to do that is to make it relevant to the wide audience we want to speak to.”
“In part, the multicultural cast also modernises the adaption. Casting is just an extension of that. We like in a society that [is multicultural], so therefore to make a 150-year-old novel feel like it’s relevant to everyone here you want to see yourself in it.”
There’s also the relationship between Valjean and Javert that Oyelowo found compelling.
“Valjean, who was in prison for 19 years, is looking for redemption,” he says. “In terms of what he believes justice looks like, Javert is someone who comes from the opposite end of the moral scale. Valjean represents grace, redemption and seeking forgiveness. Javert represents retribution. He doesn’t believe people are redeemable.”
The script just called to Oyelowo.
“I read the scripts and couldn’t get over how incredible the story is,” he says. “I then read the book and was astounded by how well he has captured such a huge novel into six hours of television. I was fascinated by Javert as a character and I had a lot of questions about him. You are always looking for a layered character.”
The actor says the time span of ‘Les Miserables’ gave them a lot of room to explore.
“The story as it unfolds takes place around a 20-year period. It starts in the early 1800s and goes into the 1830s. When you are afforded that time span, you can really get deep in terms of story, character and arc,” he says.
And for Oyelowo, the book is relevant to a modern audience.
“The nature of the way we have told these stories; seeing it through the eyes of the rich, poor and everyone in-between, means that it will be relevant to audiences in a way that maybe hasn’t been quite the case in the past,” he says.
Don’t miss it!
‘Les Miserables’ premieres on January 13 at 9pm in the UAE on BBC First available on OSN.