Les Miserables episode 6 review: a triumphant, tragic conclusion

Les Miserables’ emotional extended finale provides everything you could ask this glorious adaptation for. Spoilers ahead in our review…

This review contains spoilers.

That, comrades, was grim but glorious. Every minute of this extended-length finale delivered. The delivery was a bundle of pain and blood signed for with our tears, but how else could this emotional tale end? The BBC needs to erect a network of public salt-licks across the country to replenish the nation’s sodium levels after all that weeping.

The finale’s extra quarter of an hour was well-used. By stretching their canvas a little wider, writer Andrew Davies and director Tom Shankland made room to give each thread a conclusion, and to leave us with an urgent message: “Love each other”. From Valjean’s lips to our ears. There can be no kinder last words.  

Valjean’s deathbed wasn’t Les Miserables’ last image. The finale went to black on the sight of two children (the little boys Gavroche had given a heel of bread last episode) begging for food in the streets. Walked by, ignored, their appeals unheard, it was a stark reminder of Les Miserables’ true identity as a protest novel. And a starker reminder that, far from being consigned to history, the problems of childhood poverty and homelessness are now disgracefully on the rise.

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Episode six swing the scythe wide, culling rebels, soldiers, heroes and villains all. The finale was careful though, to make sure that each death was felt. Its cameras found the faces of the dead, silently observed the charnel pile stacking higher, and recorded the bloodstains on the cobbles left behind by so much wasted life. Dead young men—the result of any war—filled Paris’ streets.

One such, Gavroche (Reece Yates), only a boy, set his life at far too cheap a price and expired like his sister in Marius’ arms. Rebellion-leader Enjolras (Joseph Quinn) and his comrade fell to the firing line hand in hand. Valjean died loved and Javert died alone.  

Until this finale, Javert’s character frustrated by being one-note. In episodes one to five, David Oyelowo played a cut-out fanatic – a seething, intractable bigot whose humanity was undiscernible underneath all the growling and teeth-grinding. 

In the finale, that portrayal made beautiful sense. Oyelowo had been kept in a strait-jacket all this time so that when it finally loosened, he could break our hearts. Javert’s foundation-shaking distress when he realised that Valjean wasn’t a devil and criminals could act with selfless grace was played with affecting depth. Weeks of rigidity paid off when Javert finally softened. Valjean activated Javert’s compassion, which had calcified after decades of viewing the world as a factory sorting line—waving through the good specimens and plucking out the rotten ones—and Javert couldn’t bear it. Thanks to Oyelowo, his story unexpectedly became the saddest of the lot.  

Another thawing had a much more hopeful conclusion. Marius’ grandfather corrected the mistake he’d made with his daughter and allowed love to transcend politics and class by welcoming Cosette into his family (albeit with a creepy Trump-esque remark or two about his new granddaughter’s beauty). His delighted “All arranged!” and Marius calling him father were flashes of gladness amidst the pain.

And oh, what pain! All of it played out in Dominic West’s dinner plate eyes. Just like episode one, Valjean didn’t speak to begin with, just watched the barricade assault unfold. Under attack, his better instincts won out and his brute strength kicked in. One heroic rescue through a realistically grimy maze of sewers later, and he’d saved Cosette’s love only to sacrifice his own freedom. His good deeds having sent Javert spinning off-centre though, he found himself free. Free from the police, but not from his own shame, which took him away from Cosette to die of a broken heart.

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The rat Thenardier spoke some truth when he remarked that once in a lifetime, virtue is rewarded. After all that struggle, Valjean’s ultimate reward was love, which—as this often bleak, often painful adaptation teaches—has the power to mend broken things.

Love each other. Bravo.

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here