Les Misérables, Ep. 4

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In a blink of an eye, Cosette has blossomed into a young lady. Her friends at school are dreaming of romance and marriage and make it clear that it’s awful that her Papa has agreed that Cosette become a nun and they continue living in the convent. Evidently, Cosette hadn’t thought much about that. She’s appalled and convinces Jean Valjean that she needs to see the real world.

He takes her out to the “real world,” the world of beggars, thieves, prostitutes, urchins and scoundrels. It’s pretty frightening. Jean Valjean didn’t need to go far to expose Cosette to these realities. They were right out their cloistered doorstep.

Jean Valjean finds housing in a poor neighborhood where the same nosy concierge with the bad powdered wig, who ratted out Cosette before she left Paris to find work, works. Hugo creates such a tiny world.

Marius learns all about how his grandfather has lied to him about his father. After confronting gramps, he leaves and finds his own room adjacent to . . . the Thenardiers. Ugh. Yes, Monsieur and Madame Thenardier are just as unctuous as before, if not more so. Their oldest daughter Éponine becomes smitten with Marius, but it’s a one-sided love. Ce Marius cultivé n’est pas exactement beau dans mon livre, donc il est difficile de croire que les filles vont tomber pour lui. 

Javert continues to brood over Jean Valjean. It’s amazing since he must have known and knows hundreds if not thousands of prisoners, but this makes the story work. Hugo voulait nous montrer un pharisien (Javert) comparé à un disciple du Christ (Jean Valjean).

We meet Marius’ friends. They’re young men eager for political change and more egalité in society. Peut-être que s’ils aidaient effectivement des gens pauvres eux-mêmes, ils verseraient une partie de l’égalité qu’ils désirent. These boys are a rougher bunch, in terms of bearing and language, than we saw in the musical, but they’re alright.

Valjean felt badly about shocking Cosette with the real world so he takes her to the Luxembourg Gardens, where Cosette crosses paths with Marius and they immediately fall in love. This part of the story was sped up quite a bit compared to other productions and I think that’s a shame. Jean Valjean notices this love connection and he’s not ready for his dear Cosette to grow up like that.

I was surprised by the many changes from the book in this episode. Some were long-winded explanations, that I didn’t think were needed. In fact, I think they weakened the story. One change was that Jean Valjean explains his criminal past to Cosette. This should make the later parts of the story less dramatic so I can’t see what’s gained.

The episode ended when after getting tricked by Monsieur Thenardier and fighting his way out of the ambush, Jean Valjean and Cosette narrowly escape getting captured by Javert. Each week ends with a real nail biter of a scene.

Yet, it’s impossible for me to not love Les Misérables and I haven’t had a good drama to watch on Sundays since Victoria ended in February, so I am pleased with the show as a whole. I admit I miss the songs, though.

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Les Misérables, Ep 3

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The story moves on. Jean Valjean decides to go to the court to exonerate a man falsely accused of stealing and mistaken as Jean Valjean. It would be so easy to let this pass. Le Mayor (J.V.) could let this go and race to save Cosette, whom the Thenardiers abuse and neglect. But Jean Valjean (le Mayor) realizes he should free the man wrongly accused, even though that man is a thief. It’s a tough decision and few would sacrifice as J.V. does.

Cosette dies alone without seeing her daughter Cosette. She’s alone, emaciated and looks white as a ghost. A nun tries to pacify Fantine by lying that the doctor won’t let Cosette come because she’s so sick. Really, if Cosette was there, consider how zombie-like poor Fantine looked her daughter might have been traumatized for life. Better that Cosette remember her mother when she was healthy.

Jean Valjean entrusted his manager to rescue Cosette, but that grumpy, judgmental woman didn’t bother. Time passes and eventually JV manages to get free from jail and race ahead of Javert to get Colette.

At Thenardier’s we see how horribly they’ve treated Cosette. This production adds more suggestion that JV is buying Cosette for untoward reasons. It was particularly slimy. After JV departs with Cosette and her new porcelain doll, the Thenardiers report her as kidnapped. That was a strange, unnecessary addition. Then the Thenardiers are soon evicted from their inn. That was a change from the book and odd, because they had just received a windfall from JV.

JV and Colette make a life in a lower class neighborhood in Paris, where they live a quiet life, except for a nosy neighbor who wears an elaborate powdered wig, which I thought only rich people could afford. Any way this French Mrs. Kravitz suspects that JV isn’t Cosette’s kin and reports him to — da da da da –Javert. Hugo sure gives us a small world for this story.

Javert goes after JV, who manages to flee to a cloistered nunnery. In this story rather than a gardener, whom JV knew, helping him. The nuns do. The abbess agrees to let Colette attend school there, hires JV and lies to Javert.

I think it’s impossible to ruin this Victor Hugo’s story, but I could have done without a few of the changes that modernized or over-explained. Fantine’s make up was overdone IMHO and the added scenes on with Thenardier’s eviction and the nosy neighbor who suspected pedophilia didn’t improve the story. Nonetheless I enjoyed the episode.

Les Misérables, Ep 2

lily les misLast night was the second episode of the Masterpiece/BBC production of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. I knew what was coming. I knew that Fantine was in for a tough timethis week. Her lover Felix had agandoned her and their baby Cosette and Fantine had no family or skills to support her well.

Last night we saw Madame Thenardier for the first time. Olivia Colman’s portrayal is both lusty as you’d expect, but also more likable because unlike the novel or the films, this Madame Thenardier tells her disreputable husband that he should be more honest because by getting a reputation for honesty, their inn would prosper. He slaps her for this. Later, another character makes the same point. I’m not sure why this production chose to white wash Madam Thenardier’s character when earlier productions succeeded with the character depicted as shown in the book.

As anyone who’s seen the films or read the novel know, in the next chapters Fantine experiences great hardship. She’s truly one of the “Les Misérables.” Though I wanted to be strong, I did have to look away at at one time mute the TV as Fantine’s fate takes a turn for the very worse.

The episode was unstinting in its depiction of Fantine’s fall. In fact the scribbler she uses to read letters from the Thenardier’s treats Fantine horribly suggesting, if not urging her to sell herself and criticizing her for selling her “assets,” i.e. her hair and teeth, before she turned to prostitution because with her cropped hair and toothless smile, she’s a less desirable object . . . . Ugh.

Fantine’s fall is worse than Jean Valjean’s and part of this is due to her extreme naivety. She never questions the Thenardier’s who constantly ask for more money to care for Cosette. She leaves her daughter with absolute strangers, though in this day there were orphanages for children with living parents. That would be the better route. In the book we’re told that Fantine had no parents at all and just grew up wandering about her small town and getting food, clothing and shelter from whoever felt generous. (Not sure why she wasn’t in an orphanage.) So that information explains a lot about why Fantine lacks common sense and has no one, no aunt, cousin, parent, etc. to turn to for help.

Cleaned up and dignified, Jean Valjean has moved upward gaining wealth and power now that his factory is prospering and he’s become mayor. The people love him. But soon Jalvert turns up and recognizes his old prisoner. Naturally Valjean gets nervous, but he remains true to the Bishop. He’s found God and honesty, though he still errors (in terms of firing Fantine, mainly because he didn’t know her full story). This production does a better job than the musical showing how much Valjean agonizes over saving the thief who’s about to die in his place. The musical certainly shows us how easy it would be for Jean Valjean to keep quiet and continue to live his new life, but this drama accentuates the dilemma.

There’s one sequence with Marius as a young boy. Somehow time hasn’t effected him as much as it has Cosette. His growth is a lot slower than hers in the interim between this and last week. Anyway, what struck me was the powered wig he sports and is worn by his grandpa and his cronies. It’s a stark, grandiose contrast to the prosperous Jean Valjean’s hair. I can’t remember if Hugo’s book makes the upperclass this contemptible.

All in all, I’m enjoyed episode 2, though it had some scenes of great suffering that I couldn’t bear. Things are bad, but not this bad in the weeks ahead. I will add that this is not an episode I advise kids watching. It might even be considered R rated for Fantine’s struggles in the streets.

 

Victoria, A Public Inconvenience

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This was the penultimate episode of Season 3. I’m not ready for this season to end.

This week the thread that captured my interest the most was between Sophie, her lover the footman Joseph and her mean husband. The husband suspects she’s being unfaithful and has paid Mr. Penge, the palace butler to spy for him. Before Sophie knows her husband knows, Joseph proposes that they run off to America. He believes he can make it big in the New World, where he wouldn’t have to hide his relationship and he wouldn’t have to deal with Mr. Penge. Sophie can’t commit. She has a son and fears losing him.

In the meantime, Sophie’s husband plots. To be cuckolded is the ultimate humiliation for a man like the Duke. By the end of the episode, he’s tricked Sophie and has gotten two doctors to commit her to an insane asylum. We don’t see the actual asylum, but I’ve seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and figure a 19th century mental hospital was much worse than a 20th century one. I don’t envy Sophie and wonder what Victoria will do when she learns her confidante has been committed.

My 2¢ – It’s too late now but I think Sophie should have grabbed some of her jewelry and run off to America with Joseph. He would treat her well. Perhaps she could kidnap her son. Now she may be in some dungeon never to see the light of day. She knew her husband is diabolical. Sophie’s story does show that although Albert and Victoria are in a rough patch, it’s just that, a patch that won’t last forever.

While Sophie’s freedom is on the line, there was other drama in the palace. Victoria and Albert have a lot of conflict that they haven’t been able to deal with. Victoria has a keen sense of distance from the prince, though it seems to me that Albert cares so much about being right and logical that he doesn’t see how he should distance himself from Feodora and be less judgmental towards Victoria. She doesn’t need to be reminded that she’s not as logical as he is.

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Albert is enamored with the idea of hosting a Great Exhibition, which would feature developments in science and technology from countries all over the world. Originally, the idea was a smaller exhibit of British advances. Many are skeptical, but Albert won’t be dissuaded even though he can’t find an architect who can come up with a suitable plan for a hall that meets all the specifications.

When the Duke of Wellington announces his retirement, Victoria thinks that if he gives Albert he job of Commander in Chief, he’ll give up on the crazy idea of the Great Exhibition. He won’t. This is Albert’s new obsession.

Lord Palmerston gets in hot water by going to far in handling the Don Pacifico Affair, when a British citizen was attacked by anti-Semites in Greece where he lives.  Without realizing it, Victoria trusted Palmerston to resolve the matter without military intervention, however, Palmerston interpreted Victoria’s response to be that he had carte blanche. Luckily, military action was averted.

Victoria realized that she needed to do something about Feodora. I hoped she’d send her half-sister home to Germany. Instead Victoria decided to encourage Feodora to bring her teenage daughter to London. Near the end of episode, Heidi arrives. When she meets Alice and Bertie, she behaves like she won’t be the easiest guest. I think she may be a lot like her mother, but time will tell.

Everything is lined up in the plot to ensure a riveting finale last week. We’ll see the Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition. We’ll learn what becomes of poor Sophie. There must be a reason Uncle Leopold returned and Feodora always has something up her sleeve. I expect first class television.

 

 

Victoria: Season 3, Coburg Quartet

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Ready for the ball

This week’s Victoria was fascinating. Storylines were:
 

  • To celebrate the christening of her youngest child, Victoria holds a Georgian era themed costume ball and Feodora is charged with doling out the invitations.
  • Uncle Leopold returns. I didn’t like him in the first two seasons as he’s got a reptilian personality. With Feodora in the palace, he comes off as more humane.
  • Albert is worried about Bertie’s behavior and his education. Even though Bertie went through a horrendous experience at the hands of his abusive tutor. Nevertheless Albert hires a quack phrenologist who measures Albert’s skull and concludes based on pseudo-science that Albert has a tendency towards madness like King George III. Albert buys into this “science” and goes on to say that it all makes sense since Victoria’s more emotional than logical. What a way to make matters worse with Victoria, Albert!
  • Sophie, the Duchess of Monmouth, whose husband is a complete churl, is in love and acting on it with the strapping new footman, Joseph. Their clandestine affair is getting hotter. Yet her indifferent, abusive husband is now suspicious. He believes Sophie is fooling around with Lord Palmerston. He can’t conceive of his noble wife loving a servant, but there you go. Throughout the episode, the Duchess obliviously fools around with Joseph unaware of how thin the ice she was skating on was. I feared she’d be found out, but she wasn’t. Perhaps in the next episode.
  • Victoria and Feodora’s conflicts boil up as Albert is enthralled with Feodora’s logic and Victoria wonders how her half-sister is affording new horses and other goodies. It turns out that Feo’s sold invitations to the ball, which turns out to have a slew of déclassé guests that Victoria doesn’t know.

 
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My Thoughts

My heart goes out to Bertie who picks up on his father’s displeasure with him. He and Alice, his older sister, try to fix his skull by wearing some sort of basin on his head. By the end of the show, he tells his mother that he knows his father doesn’t love him and they share their feelings brought on because it seems Albert’s disappointed with them as they aren’t logical enough.

I worry about what will happen to Sophie when her husband finds out she’s fooling around with the footman. He might have a heart attack, but more likely he’ll go ballistic. She’s been lucky so far, but that never lasts forever. Joseph will lose his job, but she can face worse consequences in this era.

The fact ball was over the top and interesting. I prefer the Victorian gowns. Sure they’re hard to move in, but the Georgians had even more hoops and fabric to manage. They all had the big powdered wigs, which must have taken hours to style and would have weighed a ton. Did you know that the term “big wig” came from the Georgian era?

Albert continues to find it hard to be Mr. Victoria. That’s understandable, but for someone so logical, he doesn’t apply that logic to himself, to his weakness dealing with his unusual role of having a wife with a higher level position. He’s not aware of how much hurt he’s causing Victoria and Bertie. I’m perplexed that he’s so blind to how conniving Feodora is.

Victoria, Season 3, A Show of Unity

When her carriage is unsuccessfully attacked by Irish rebels, Victoria learns that the Irish want their freedom. Thus the queen takes her entourage to visit the Emerald Isle.

Albert gets Bertie a new tutor from his visit to Cambridge. Victoria’s not amused because she wasn’t consulted. That’s understandable. Albert continues to have trouble with his role, which he sees as second-fiddle, and Victoria’s mourning Skerrett and impatient that no one realizes this. All these emotions add to the marital conflict between the Queen and the Prince.

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The real Feodora

Like Cinderella or Jane Eyre, Feodora’s left at home to look after the children. She stews and pouts and is clueless about the new tutor, whom the servants suspect is up to something.

In Ireland, the royal retinue stay at Lord Palmerston’s estate. We meet Lady Palmerston. I expected a long suffering woman trapped in a loveless, arranged marriage. I was off base. Lady Palmerston is a busy beekeeper and happy with her open marriage.

Victoria’s blown away with the open marriage concept. She shares this arrangement with Albert, not that it’s something either of them want to try, but she’s amazed she’s met a woman who’s okay with this.

Love is also in the air between Sophie, the duchess with the churlish husband, and the new footman, Joseph. It’s a perilous relationship, that’s consummated and joyous. The duchess and the footman frolic in at the beach and aren’t as secretive as they should be. Rather jealous, Lord Palmerston notices and warns Sophie that she’s playing with fire. She doesn’t heed his advice and I suspect will be found out next week (or soon).

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Sophie, the duchess who’s playing with fire

Victoria is a big diplomatic success at the ceremony in Dublin where she says just the right things and shows the Irish she cares. This doesn’t solve everything, but she was the first British monarch to visit Ireland since the Middle Ages, so I think she’s due some credit.

Back home, Albert quarrels with Victoria. He also is proud as can be that Bertie’s making great progress with his studies. His math and French have taken off.

However, Victoria’s new maid eventually mentions that the servants suspect the tutor of child abuse. The queen immediately races to the children’s room and catches the tutor in the act. He’s thrown out. I would have like to have seen him thrown in jail and put on trial. Poor Bertie! I found this storyline the most heart-breaking of the week. (Sophie should know her affair will be found out and that to cuckold a duke with a hot temper will not go unpunished. I fell sorry for her but she’s an adult.)

As usual, the hour sped by. The program is packed with drama, gorgeous costumes, and splendid scenery. This week we were also treated to some fine Irish-inspired music.

Victoria, Season 3, Episode 4

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Lots of discord between Victoria and Albert. Albert’s insistent on getting Bertie a tutor and doesn’t want to attend a reception for foreign dignitaries. They exchange testy letters revealing their tempers.

Albert is still upset that the family’s returned to London. Playing second fiddle to his wife has always been hard for him. It’s understandable. Albert’s excited to be offered the role of Chancellor at Cambridge University. He feels this is a position he can sink his teeth into by sharing input on how universities in Germany are run. Lord Palmerston informs Albert that the position is a sinecure. Albert brushes this aside, heads to Cambridge and gives a long and lofty speech on the merits of modern education, German-style. It wasn’t received well. A vote is taken for the new Chancellor and surprisingly Cambridge alum Lord P, votes for Albert and helps him win the title.

Skerrett, Victoria’s lady’s maid, is now with her new husband Mr. Francatelli in their new home, an old inn that they’re renovating and will soon open for business. Victoria’s still smarting from Mrs. Francatelli’s sudden departure and no one in the palace seems to sympathize.

The main crisis this week was an outbreak of cholera. Dr. Snow, who’s scoffed at by the big wigs for his stuttering and his theory that cholera is caused by impure water and food, tracks outbreaks and traces them to their source. You’re right to guess that someone in the queen’s circle is bound to come down with cholera. It’s Mrs. Skerrett. We see her decline till she’s as white as a ghost. Dr. Snow has pinpointed the cause, but can he find a cure in time?

The beautiful duchess suffers verbal abuse from her churl of a husband. This beauty is protected, advised and romanced by Joseph the footman and Lord Palmerston who’s savvy enough to know that her head will roll if her husband is cuckolded.

SPOILER ALERT (below)

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