Ellie Bamber gave an interview to the website (whimn.com.au) to talk about Les Misérables that debuts this month in Australia.
The screenwriter Andrew Davies is known for adding much-needed doses of raunch to all your beloved period dramas.
It was Davies after all, blessed man, who told Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy to dive into that pond at Pemberley, white shirt and everything, and it is Davies who has put a little frisson of sex into his latest project: a six-part dramatic adaptation (meaning, no singing) of Les Misérables airing on BBC First this month.
In the first episode alone Dominic West, whose Jean Valjean is miserly and crooked until he meets Fantine (Lily Collins), exposes his bare bottom in front of Javert (David Oyelowo). And then later in the series, Marius (Josh O’Connor, soon to be seen as the Young Prince Charles in season three of The Crown), besotted at the sight of the ethereal Cosette (Ellie Bamber), falls to his knees and kisses her feet as a sign of his undying devotion.
This, it turns out, was the scene given during the Les Misérables audition process to 21-year-old Bamber, the Chanel muse and ingenue plucked from school to star in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals as the daughter of Isla Fisher and Jake Gyllenhaal. (“Australia’s most gorgeous, funny woman,” Bamber enthuses. “I love Isla so much.”)
A roster of Mariuses were given the stage directions to kiss Bamber’s feet in the audition room, but only O’Connor was game enough to follow through. “He fucking went for it,” Bamber says, a huge grin on her face. “It was really amazing, and I thought, “Okay, this seems legit, let’s keep going,” she recalls. It was a sign of connection and intimacy between the two young actors that would only grow as the production went on. Besides, Bamber adds, “It was only the bridge of my foot, so it was okay.”
The two have an instant, zingy chemistry that translates offscreen. At the press launch for the series in London, Bamber spies O’Connor in a dapper-looking suit over my shoulder and flips him the bird. “You’re suited!” she laughs incredulously, before rolling her eyes at me. “That’s our Josh.”
That there should be more than just a hint of sex in Les Misérables will come as no surprise to those who know the original novel well. Written by Victor Hugo, a man so beloved by the local Parisian prostitutes that when he died the brothels shut their doors for a day in mourning, the story is essentially one of the first fuckboy in literary history. Fantine is spectacularly led astray by Felix, a man who has no intention of doing anything right by her, and by the end of the first episode she is left to fend for herself and her infant daughter Cosette all on her own. (To Felix, Cosette’s ne’er-do-well father, we would like to say thank u, next.)
But the beating heart of Les Misérables’ romance are Marius and Cosette, whose wholesome, swoony love story runs as a counterpoint to the roster of men who took advantage of Fantine right up until her death.
There’s been a lot of sex onscreen this past year, especially in Bamber’s ex-boyfriend Richard Madden’s television show Bodyguard. (The pair split in January.) No doubt there’ll be more in Bamber’s next project, The Trial of Christine Keeler, a BBC dramatisation of the scandalous Profumo affair, as seen on season two of The Crown. (Bamber plays model Mandy-Rice Davies in the series, which also stars James Norton and Sophie Cookson.) In Les Misérables, however, the sex is every day implied but never declared.
“There’s something to be said for some sex [on television],” Bamber says, “but this isn’t graphic.” So there’s no ripping of corsets? “No!” she says, emphatically, laughing. “Cosette has been sheltered in a convent her whole life, she doesn’t know what love is. So when when she meets Marius she can’t identify these feelings… I think her love is so pure because she feels it so greatly.”
But it is also a love story about the relationship between a father and daughter as Cosette teaches Valjean how to open his heart up to the world again. “It’s so nice that there is such romance at the heart of it,” Bamber says. “I’ve always seen Cosette as a representation of hope and love.”
On the set of the miniseries in Belgium Bamber spent most of her time with West listening to trap music. “I love telling this story because it was such a shock for me as well,” she grins at me. “One morning I said ‘Dominic I hope you don’t mind if I play some trap music,’ and he said ‘No, I love trap music’ and next minute we’re both dancing around the truck. We had a real laugh.”
According to Bamber, it’s that ebullient energy that makes Les Misérables metaphorically sing. “If you think about all of the bad things that are happening in this world,” Bamber says, it’s no wonder that the time is ripe for an epic period drama. “[The BBC] are so good at it because they bring magical stories to life. It’s escapism.”
Les Misérables is on BBC First and is available to stream on-demand from Foxtel.
Ellie Bamber plays Cosette
Tell us about Cosette
For me, Cosette is a representation of hope and the future for the story. Her journey is the story of her becoming a woman, but one from a really tough past. Previously I feel audiences have had a different idea of Cosette – she’s often seen as a passive character within the plot, but Andrew Davies’ script delves into her past so you can see why she is nervous at the beginning of her teenage life. She does have a huge capacity to love and that begins to show.
I haven’t played a character recently from this time period so wearing these amazing costumes is incredible, as are the sets.
Tell us about Les Misérables as an adaptation
I loved Andrew’s scripts, they are so eloquently written. An audience who hasn’t read the book but might have seen the play or seen the movie adaptation will see new details that they wouldn’t have seen or known before, especially about the characters’ pasts and where they are going.
Tell us about the relationship between Cosette and Jean Valjean
The relationship between Cosette and Jean Valjean is wonderful, as they depend on each other. She teaches him how to love and that’s beautiful. The interesting thing about the journey they go on together is Cosette becoming a woman: it’s a father holding onto his daughter, but also letting her go.
Sophie Cookson (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Gypsy, Red Joan) leads the cast in the role of Christine Keeler. James Norton (McMafia, War and Peace, Happy Valley) stars opposite Cookson in the role of Stephen Ward together with Ellie Bamber (Les Miserables, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Nocturnal Animals) as the model Mandy Rice-Davies. Ben Miles (The Crown, The Last Post) will play John Profumo and Emilia Fox (Silent Witness, Delicious) stars as Valerie Profumo. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Angels in America, Mope) plays Johnny Edgecombe and Anthony Welsh (Journeyman, Black Mirror, Starred Up) plays Aloysius “Lucky” Gordon.
Written by Bafta award-winning novelist and screenwriter Amanda Coe (Apple Tree Yard, Room at the Top, Life in Squares) and directed by Andrea Harkin (Come Home, Clique), The Trial of Christine Keeler takes a fresh look at one of the most infamous British stories: the chain of events in the 1960s that came to be known as the Profumo Affair.
At the centre of the storm was 19-year-old Christine Keeler (Cookson) – a young woman whom the powerful, male-dominated establishment sought to silence and exploit, but who refused to play by their rules.
The Trial of Christine Keeler takes us behind the headlines to tell a human story about the sexual and cultural politics of one of the most revealing and iconic stories of modern times.
Filming began this week in Bristol.
Sophie Cookson says: “I’m delighted to be playing Christine Keeler in this new drama. Amanda Coe has written an illuminating script about a vivid, complex woman who has previously, it seems, been reduced and misunderstood. Now feels like the perfect time to reconsider her life, and redress the balance.”
James Norton says: “I’m delighted to be working with the BBC on this fantastic drama. The opportunity to play Stephen Ward alongside this stellar cast and crew is something I’m really looking forward to.”
Kate Triggs, Executive Producer for Ecosse Films, says: “I am thrilled that Amanda’s wonderful scripts have attracted such an exciting and stunning cast. They all bring something unique and fresh to the story and will be so compelling to watch. Sophie Cookson is the perfect Christine, embodying all her complexity and incredible spirit”.
Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, says: “Casting actresses who could authentically convey the age and experience of the young women at the centre of this piece was key to achieving Amanda’s vision for this story. I’m delighted that we have two actresses of such calibre in the roles of Christine and Mandy, and actors of real skill and complexity in James and Ben, to play alongside them.”
The Trial of Christine Keeler is an Ecosse Films and Great Meadow co-production for BBC One. The executive producers are Kate Triggs and Douglas Rae for Ecosse Films, Amanda Coe and Lucy Richer for BBC. Rebecca Ferguson will produce.
The series is commissioned by Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content, and Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama.
Keshet International will distribute internationally, while working alongside Endeavor Content to co-distribute the six-part series in the US.
The Trial Of Christine Keeler is the first title to benefit from financial support from the KI Content Fund. Launched earlier in March this year by Keshet International with several of Israel’s largest holding and asset management companies, KI’s five year content fund aims to bring high-profile projects with global appeal to a wider audience by also utilising KI’s worldwide distribution prowess.
PBS’ Masterpiece and BBC has released the first trailer for Les Misérables, the upcoming six-part event adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel. A co-production from Lookout Point and BBC Studios, the drama stars Dominic West as Jean Valjean, David Oyelowo as Javert, Lily Collins as Fantine and Adeel Akhtar and Olivia Colman as Monsieur and Madame Thénardier.
Penned by Andrew Davies (Pride & Prejudice), the non-musical adaptation of the beloved tale delves deep into the many layers of Valjean and Javert’s cat-and-mouse relationship, and set against the epic backdrop of France at a time of civil unrest. Tom Shankland is directing.
Cast also includes Ellie Bamber as Cosette, Josh O’Connor as Marius and Erin Kellyman as Eponine.
Davies exec produces with Faith Penhale for Lookout Point, Bethan Jones for BBC Studios, Mona Qureshi for BBC One and Rebecca Eaton for Masterpiece. West and Oyelowo have also taken executive producer credits. Chris Carey is producing.
The first episode of ‘Les Misérables’ will air Sunday 30th December at 9pm on BBC1.
And premieres April 14, 2019 on Masterpiece PBS on USA.
Check out the trailer below.
Following several months of anticipation, the BBC has unveiled official stills from its blockbuster six-part TV adaptation of Les Misérables.
A star-studded line-up, including Lily Collins, Ellie Bamber, Olivia Colman and Dominic West are seen in period costume for the upcoming drama — which, it has been revealed, will not be a musical.
Ellie Bamber, 21, who plays Fantine’s daughter Cosette, is pictured in a plush blue coat with fur trim alongside Josh O’Connor, 28, who plays Cosette’s suitor Marius Pontmercy.
The six-part drama, follows the story of French former convict Jean Valjean, played by Dominic West, as he struggles to escape his past while being pursued by police inspector Javert.
Written by Andrew Davies, who adapted War and Peace for the BBC two years ago and Pride and Prejudice in 1995, it has been filmed in Belgium and northern France.
It is believed it will be shown on BBC1 around Christmas or New Year.
See the first still by clicking on the thumbnails below.