Initially, when I discussed choosing a time period for the show with my advisor, she suggested perhaps working with in the 1970s, a time period when student protests were common. While I do love 70s fashion and find the translation intriguing, I have decided that the idea I am most interested in is doing a modern-day adaptation of the novel, with the Baltimore Protests as the novel’s climax instead of the June Rebellion. When I originally stated my goals for the project, I said that I wanted to demonstrate how timeless Les Mis is, and how relevant its story and characters still are to us today. And today, les misérables aren’t the young men being drafted into the Vietnam War; they are the men and women who have lost their lives to police brutality.
That decision made, I compared a timeline of the actual events in Les Mis with the new dates I would be working with:
1795 / 1978 – Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread
1796 / 1979 – Valjean is sentenced to 5 years in prison and becomes prisoner 24601
1806 / 1989 – Monseigneur Bienvenu is named Bishop of Digne
1815 / 1998 – At Waterloo, Thénardier steals from and saves Colonel Pontmercy, Valjean is put on parole and goes to the Bishop’s house, Valjean arrives at Montreuil-sur-mer
1817 / 2000 – Tholomyès abandons Fantine and Cosette
1818 / 2001 – Fantine commits Cosette to the care of the Thénardier and goes to Montreuil-sur-mer.
1819 / 2002 – Javert arrives in Montreuil-sur-mer, M. Madeleine saves Fauchelevent
1820 / 2003 – M. Madeleine is named Mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer, Fantine is fired from the factory
1821 / 2004 – Monseigneur Bienvenu’s death
1823 / 2006 – Javert arrests Fantine but M. Madeleine intervenes, Valjean reveals his true identity, Fantine dies and Valjean is arrested, Valjean goes to prison but escapes, Valjean takes custody of Cosette
1824 / 2007 – Cosette and Valjean establish themselves at Petit-Picpus
1827 / 2010 – Colonel Pontmercy’s death
1828 / 2011 – Marius leaves M. Gillenormand’s house
1829 / 2012 – Fauchelevent’s death, Valjean and Cosette rent 55 Rue Plumet
1831 / 2014 – Cosette & Marius first see on another in Luxemburg
1832 / 2015 – The Thénardiers’ are arrested (M. Thénardier escapes, Mme. dies), Marius repeatedly visits Cosette in the garden in Rue Plumet, Éponine stops a robbery at Rue Plumet, Valjean moves in Rue Homme-Arme, Lamarque’s death, the Barricade is built, Mabeuf’s and Éponine’s death, Gavroche’s and Les Amis’ death, barricade falls, Valjean takes the wounded Marius to Gillenormand’s house, Javert’s suicide, Cosette gets engaged to Marius
1833 / 2016 – Cosette’s and Marius’ wedding, Valjean’s death
Right away, some of the more obvious changes are clear: all of the locations will be altered, since the climax is now taking place in Baltimore instead of Paris. Some of the events would be modified in the adaptation as well (for example, it makes much less sense for Cosette and Marius to get married at such a young age). However the changes to the characters are more specific, and are of course my main concern. Valjean’s costuming moves from actual chains to an orange jumpsuit and then a simple, clean-cut suit for his time as mayor. When he takes in Cosette, he opts for more casual dress wear. Javert’s costuming does not change too much over the course of the novel, but the alteration of time period changes the standard of his uniform. Javert’s title in the French police force was “Inspecteur,” but the guidelines for police ranks are not the same across different countries: in this adaptation, he will be a senior executive officer (such as a superintendent). Fantine now grew up in an orphanage, and after having Cosette, begrudgingly puts her into the foster system once she turns to prostitution. Her clothing will obviously be much more revealing, considering that it will be the mid-2000s. Cosette grows up in an unloving foster home (the Thénardiers’ house), where the only clothes she is given are Éponine and Azelma’s cast offs. They are often completely worn through and too small for her. However, once Jean Valjean adopts her with the help of Fauchelevent, she is given proper clothing; by the time she reaches her teens (2010s) she is very fashion conscious and her clothing reflects that. Lastly, Marius is still impoverished, despite his wealth; after running away from his grandfather’s house, Marius can afford few new clothes. His clothing is mostly from the early 2010s, since he got them before he left home, and they are fairly stylish. However, since leaving he has worn them out considerably. He borrows clothing from Courfeyrac when possible, to maintain appearances.
My next step is to report back on character sketching and then my actual renderings, so my next post will be about that process and my final product!