This adaptation of Zola's novel looks superb, as befits the most expensive French film to date. From the opening with the coal mine, belching orange flame, looming out of the dark, to the strike and riot, all 160 million francs is on screen. In the novel the miners' unionisation and strike are matched by the frustrated love story of Etienne (folk singer Renaud, making an impressive debut) and Catherine (Henry), in the film, however, the miners are much to the fore - with the result that the pace slows. The film, from the director of Manon des Sources, is at its best exploring man's uneasy relationship with the earth; the coal dust these people extract from the ground is killing them as surely as it's keeping a roof over their heads. Depardieu, as Maheu, is solid if unspectacular; but Miou-Miou, as his long-suffering wife, is astonishing, her performance gaining strength as she loses her beloved family, one by one, to the pit.