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Modernized ‘Les Miserables’ Series to Pitch at Canneseries

An updated take on the iconic French novel promises to be as scandalous and subversive as its source was two centuries ago

Elephant, a Paris-based collective of creative professionals working in film, TV and digital, will pitch an updated re-telling of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” at this year’s In Development section for Canneseries and MipTV. It will be the first French adaptation of the story in more than two decades.

Hugo’s novel was a revelation when first published in 1862, and has been adapted for stage and screen countless times since. But, executive producer Guillaume Renouil sees a TV series as a way to expand on many of Hugo’s philosophies beyond what can be done in a two-hour film or play.

“All the previous adaptations have concentrated on the story of Valjean’s destiny and redemption,” he explained to Variety, “but ‘Les Miserables’ is a lot more than that.

A series format will allow us to go deeper in others characters’ storylines: Fantine, Cosette, the Thenardier’s, Javert, Marius, Gavroche, etc. All these characters will be developed over the 20 years of the story.”

Created and written by Marc Herpoux, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and Sheila O’Connor, this version of the story will take place at the end of the 20th and first two decades of the 21stcentury.

Clearly much has changed since then, but Renouil argues that much has stayed the same as well: “People are still suffering, the position of women and children is as difficult as ever, and poverty and exclusion are everywhere.”

But, while many of the book’s themes are universal and timeless, others may no longer be relevant. In this version, Fantine is not a factory girl but moves between small jobs as waitress, call-operator, or maid; Valjean finds his success in the service industry, operating a chain of high-end hotels.

Perhaps the most obvious difference in eras, however, is that the Paris June Rebellion of 1832, which dominates the later part of the book, has long since ended. Renouil addressed this problem as well.

“France is not in open revolution at the moment,” he admitted, “but in the past few years, we have had riots, and there has been violence here. For example in spring 2016, the Nuit Debout movement brought together thousands of people in the streets. It was mostly peaceful, but some very violent situations occurred.”

The bible for season one was recently finished, and contains an episode-by-episode story arc. The timing is ideal, as Elephant heads to Cannes looking to secure co-producers and potential broadcasters for the project.

“We are open to a wide range of partners, as we are just starting the discussions,” explained Sandra Ouaiss, head of international drama for Elephant. “We are looking for broadcasters and platforms, French and/or International, but also co-producers, distributors etc.”

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