• The


    event series

    , available on Salto, lands this Wednesday at 9 p.m. on France 2.

  • Screenwriter Julien Lilti and director David Hourrègue were tasked with modernizing Zola's work.

  • How did they construct this modern rereading of the 1885 naturalist novel?

For many French people,


evokes a miserable book (and a bit soporific) on the condition of minors in the North at the end of the 19th century, swallowed by force in college or high school. The




available on Salto, which arrives this Wednesday at 9 p.m. on France 2, nevertheless clearly displays its ambition: to transform the naturalist novel by Émile Zola published in the winter of 1885 into a fresco as contemporary as it is hectic. How did screenwriter Julien Lilti (


) and director David Hourrègue (Skam France) dust off this classic?



represents exactly the type of event series that we like to have on the public service because it is a familiar ground, which can seem traditional, a classic subject, but with a treatment, a realization, ultramodern incarnations which resonate completely with today ”, summarizes Manuel Alduy, director of cinema and international development at France Télévisions (which co-produced


with the Italian channel RAI and the Salto platform), whom

20 Minutes

met during a round table at Séries Mania .

A contemporary rereading of the original novel

“I thought I had read


When I reread the book, I realized that I had completely missed it when I was made to read it in eighth grade. The novel, I really discovered it when I reread it, ”says Julien Lilti. If France Télévisions asked the team of authors to “modernize”


, Julien Lilti quickly realized that “modernity was there in the novel”. The screenwriter therefore offers a contemporary rereading of the original novel which recounts the workers' struggles at the end of the 19th century. "I wrote this adaptation in full movement of the yellow vests, so obviously, it resonates with the news," said the screenwriter.

And to underline the echo with our time: “The spectator of the XXIst century who will discover


will see how the past illuminates our world today, how the questions of the beginning of the industrial revolution continue to be asked while we have the impression of being at the tail end of this industrial revolution and that we no longer know how to stop this machine which is destroying the planet.


A feminist reinterpretation of the original novel

"It's a very faithful adaptation to the novel, but there are freedoms", summarizes Julien Lilti. As in the book, the series follows Étienne Lantier (Louis Peres, seen in


), a young unemployed man who gets hired at the mines of Montsou, in northern France. He moved to a family of minors, the Maheu (Thierry Godard and Alix Poisson), and fell in love with their daughter Catherine (the Canadian Rose-Marie Perreault). Realizing in their contact of the terrible living conditions of the "black guys", Etienne Lantier takes the direction of a movement of revolt.

The screenwriter also offers “surprises, unexpected things, different lightings on things that are in the work, but that Zola has less enlightened”. The female characters thus take on more depth than in the novel. Alix Poisson, totally invested in the role of Maheude, gives the signal for the strike, emphasizing the place of women, who also went down to the mine, in the workers' struggles.

The rape of Catherine by Chaval (Jonas Bloquet) is only one paragraph in the novel.

Rape, very common in naturalist novels, then represents an inevitability of the female condition, but does not give rise to a real story.

In the post-MeToo era, the series explores the consequences of this trauma on Catherine.

"Catherine is caught in a silent prison because she cannot say what happened to her", underlines Thomas Lilti.

Dialogues for "the ear of the spectator of the 21st century"

Julien Lilti has decided to put words of today in the mouths of the characters of Zola.

A boss will speak of “globalization”, a miner will say “let me go” or “I'm breaking”.

“On the form, the other adaptations helped me.

I saw pitfalls that I wanted to avoid, ”he says.

Claude Berry's film put “Zola's indirect dialogues in the mouths of the actors”.

“It works when you read the novel, but not on the screen.

There is something that puts the characters at a distance where, as a spectator, I should identify myself, ”believes the screenwriter, who has chosen not to“ strike the ear of the spectator of the 21st century ”.

A "Peaky Blinders" aesthetic

The series takes other liberties, such as with the invention of the character Bressan (Steve Driesen), the strikebreaker, which does not exist in the novel. David Hourrègue also made the choice of a colorblind cast: Sami Bouajila plays Victor Deneulin, a mine boss more concerned with the well-being of his employees than Philippe Hennebeau (Guillaume de Tonquédec) and Steve Tientcheu, seen in

Les Misérables

de Ladj Ly, campe Rasseneur, the miner turned tavern-keeper.

With an envelope of twelve million euros, 2,400 extras, 700 costumes, 56 roles, including 20 main roles and forty reconstructed sets including a flooded mine in a basin studio in Belgium, the production claims an aesthetic à la

Peaky Blinders

, British series became the benchmark for the production of period series.

A dusting that seduced the former miners, the children and grandchildren of miners, gathered in Arenberg, a former mining town in the North where the series was filmed and screened in preview on the occasion of the Séries Mania festival, La series was crowned there with the price of the public.


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