After 18 years, Edmond Dants escaped from an island prison to find his beloved father dead from grief, his fiance married to his sworn enemy, and his best friends -- now prominent men -- accomplices in his false arrest.
"If You didn't see fit to exercise divine justice," Dants declares to what he views as an unjust God, "I'll see to it. My way. It shall be merciless . . . and devastating."
So Dants becomes the Dirty Harry of the post-Napoleonic era. The crusade to plot and carry out his retribution is told in "The Count of Monte Cristo," an engaging and deceptively fleet eight-hour miniseries starring Grard Depardieu. Bravo, which co-produced the film, airs it Monday through Thursday from
8 to 10 p.m.
"Monte Cristo," which aired in France in September, is subtitled and features Depardieu's children, Guillaume and Julie, in small parts. Depardieu, start of "The Last Metro" and "Cyrano de Bergerac," also helped finance the $17 million project filmed in France, Italy and Malta.
The work is at least the 10th retelling of the 1840 novel by Alexandre Dumas pre, who also penned "The Three Musketeers."
Didier Decoin, a prize-winning French author whose father was a well-regarded film director, adapted this newest work. The director is Jose Dayan, known for her television work in France.
Dayan, 45, said she had an advantage over her predecessors because the length of her film meant she did not have to compress or kill dozens of the novel's secondary plotlines that add depth to Dants' character.
"What I tried to do different was I wanted a film to resemble an opera," she said from France through a translator. "I wanted a violence of feeling and emotion. Not just to tell a story. It's more based on emotion than events. Also, because my film is much longer than others made before, I was able to develop the relationship Dants has with his enemies."
Of those, three -- Danglars, Morcerf and Villefort -- have an interest, romantic or political, in Dants' disposal.
The first two anonymously incriminate Dants as a "Bonapartist" plotting to free the former emperor from Elba. Dants, a sailor, was unwittingly carrying a correspondence from Napoleon to the father of Villefort, the crown attorney who jails Dants before word of the real culprit ruins the attorney's family's name.
There's also a love angle that adds some soap to Dayan's "opera." On the day of his arrest, Dants is spirited away by the authorities just as he is about to wed Mercedes, who later marries Morcerf not knowing of Dants' true fate and who was behind it.
In prison, Dants befriends Abbe Faria, who tells the former sailor of a hidden treasure on Monte Cristo, a small, rocky Mediterranean island. Faria soon dies, and Dants escapes by hiding in the cloth bag used for Faria's burial at sea.
Under water, Dants slices through the cloth with a crucifix-shaped knife, and, amid slow-motion cresting waves, he surfaces reborn, like Lazarus risen -- only one example of the religious imagery suggested throughout the miniseries.
Ashore, Dants assumes different identities, including an abbot, a banker and the Count of Monte Cristo. As all three, he tries to justify the just deserts he plans for those who sold him out, even as other factors -- such as befriending the innocent children of his intended victims -- complicate his mission.
Known for using his beefy build, cleft-nose and cascading blond hair to play anti-heroes, Depardieu is adept at conveying the sorrowful core of Dants' vengeance, in Dayan's view.
"It's not a negative vengeance," she said. "He pursues it with great deal of regret, and thus there are a great deal of colors and shades to how this takes place."
Guillaume Depardieu, 28, who plays the young Dants, said in a telephone interview he was intrigued with the idea of betrayal. An aspiring filmmaker who has acted in several films, young Depardieu has a reputation as a bad-boy artist. He also played his father's counterpart in his film debut, "Tous les Matins du Monde" (1991), winner of the Csar Award, France's Academy Award equivalent.
He currently is working with his sister and actress Jeanne Moreau in a television movie directed by Dayan.
Dayan said it is not unusual to have well-known French film actors appear on television projects. In this case, she said, Grard Depardieu came to her about two years ago after she directed his wife, Elisabeth, in a French miniseries.
Any sense of risk vanished with the ratings last fall -- about 12 million viewers for each of its four episodes, according to the entertainment trade paper Variety. Dayan, who has made most of her 130 films for television, said viewership for "Monte Cristo" was about double what she said a "typical" successful show attracts.
Frances Berwick, senior vice president for programming at Bravo, said she did not expect similar ratings when "Monte Cristo" airs, but hoped the miniseries would find an audience especially among fans of the network's World Cinema program, which airs on Wednesday nights.
"But the audience will be much broader with `Monte Cristo' because of the family appeal as well as the adult storyline," Berwick said.
CAPTION: Guillaume Depardieu with Naike Rivelli in "The Count of Monte Cristo," airing on Bravo.