Les Misérables, Episode 5

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While I like Les Misérables, and the novel’s one of my favorite books, there’s some je nes sais quoi aspect that is missing in this production. Perhaps I can’t help but compare a Les Misérables production to the musical, but then why am I completely satisfied with the classics with Michel Simon and Jean Gabin? I watched them after reading the book or seeing the musical and was swept up by the stories. With this version, I’m a bit detached.

This week resumes with Cosette pining for Marius, who’s rather mopey in my opinion. Marius’ friends led by Enjolras decide to seize the moment of General LaMarque’s funeral to start a revolution that will bring about the social change they seek, i.e. better treatment for the poor. Marius is teased for being so in love that he can’t focus on a revolution.

The penniless Marius decides to eat crow and visit his awful grandfather to ask permission to marry. The old man scoffs and just suggests Marius put the girl gramps believes is a pauper up in an apartment and amuse himself till it’s time to marry for status and wealth. Gramps is simply advising Marius to do what he did. To his credit, Marius is appalled and vows to never cross the threshold of his grandfather’s mansion.

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After escaping from jail, Éponine finds Marius and promises to give Cosette a letter from him. Though she’s in love with Marius, she’s willing to aid his love for her rival. She confronts her evil, abusive father in her efforts and while for a time hides Cosette’s new address she eventually tells Marius all and even sacrifices her life for him. The problem with this production was that the love Éponine shows looks so thin. I wondered why she died so Marius, who’s a bit of a wet noodle, could live.

The funeral procession seemed less epic, and probably more authentic, than in the musical. All hell does break loose, but this rush to the barricades didn’t have the impact on me as a viewer as other productions did.

Javert continues to obsessively want to capture Jean Valjean more than he wants to quell a rebellion. This time I wanted a colleague or superior to knock him over the head or ship him off to an asylum.

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Jean Valjean fears Thenardiér and the police and plans to leave France after a few days at a new secret apartment. In addition to retrieving the fortune he’s stashed in the woods, he has to deal with Cosette’s teenage rebellion. Like all her age, she can’t see that her love isn’t quite as important as saving her adopted father’s life. Well, it’s almost excusable as she’s not fully aware of Jean Valjean’s situation. But she does know enough. She’s the one who cleaned his wounds after his fight with Thenardiér’s thugs. He has told her he was in prison. She must remember how he saved her from abuse and neglect.

The episode takes us up to Jean Valjean arriving at the barricade. He’s finally discovered Cosette’s secret romance and selflessly goes to help Marius.

For the most part, Masterpiece has followed Hugo’s story, but as I said something’s missing. Je souhaite que je nouveau quoi.

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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.

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.

 

Masterpiece: Les Misérables

It’s no secret that Les Misérables is one of my favorite stories of all time. I’ve read the book and seen the musical, the film with Liam Neeson, the film with Jean Gabin and the one with Harry Barr. I’ve loved them all.

I lost track of time and missed the premier of Masterpiece’s newest Les Mis, but fortunately, I taped it and am now ready for episode 2.

Beginning with Thénardier (Adeel Akhtar) robbing the pockets of soldiers killed at Waterloo. As luck would have it, Pontmercy, a solider, wakes up and mistakes Thénardier for a savior. Then in the prison where Jean Val Jean (Dominic West) toils away while being abused, beaten and tricked by the guards and Inspector Javert (David Oyelowo), a 19th century French Pharisee. Early on we also see Pontmercy’s wealthy father-in-law who’s taken custody of his grandson when the boy’s mother died. Vehemently opposed to Pontmercy’s politics, the grandfather forbids Pontmercy to see his own son, Marius, a cutie pie in velvet and frilly collars.

Fantine’s story of meeting Felix, Cossette’s father, this production starts earlier in the book than the musical. We get to see the slimy, philandering Felix who loves and leaves poor, naive Fantine. Interwoven with Fantine’s story, we see Jean Valjean get freed from jail and encounter hostility and injustice till he’s welcome by the saintly Bishop Digne.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the story. It’s a lush production. I always have an odd feeling about computer graphics. I can tell it’s not real (or faux real). I sense something lacking in the vast settings that must be computer graphics.

The story spans decades and contains several plot lines. Victor Hugo dedicated each section of the book according to a main character. The screenwriter has woven several sections together and the chronology’s changed. Some things seem to be simultaneous here, when they weren’t in the book. For example, at the end of episode 1, Fantine’s holding her daughter Cossette, who looks like she is at least a year old. Yet Felix just abandoned her a few hours before. I thought Fantine got pregnant after Felix left her. Also, Jean Valjean has just left the Bishop’s. It seems the timing is off between Fantine, whose story doesn’t need much time to progress to the next stage, and Jean Valjean, who took many years to get to the next point when he’ll meet Fantine.

Even though there are some differences between other productions and these do bother me, the annoyance is small and Les Misérables is a story that can’t be ruined. (Knock on wood.) So far this series is off to a good start.

Les Misérables

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As a big fan of Victor Hugo’s novel and the musical Les Misérables, I had to get the Criterion Collection version of Raymond Bernard’s epic film, which was made in the 1930s. (Some say 1934, others 1935.)

At 284 minutes, it’s a long film and I’ve been watching it over the course of a couple weeks, but it’s been worth it. (This might be the longest film I’ve ever watched.) For the theaters Bernard succeeded in convincing the studio to release the film in three parts so viewers would watch the film on three different days at their convenience. Quite a wise idea as I had to take breaks.

At first because I’m so tied to the musical with Hugh Jackman, I didn’t connect immediately with Harry Baur as Jean Val Jean. But with his sincerity and vulnerability Baur won me over and became Jean Val Jean as much as any actor.

Since this Les Misérables was made in the 1930s, I expected lower production values. Certainly scenes weren’t as lush, but they were high quality and a lot of money went into the rebellion and costumes and more. The film spent less time with Fantine and didn’t hurt the filmportray her falling into prostitution as graphically as the musical, but I see that as a plus because I know some friends didn’t want their children who’re in middle school to see those scenes with Anne Hathaway. I don’t blame them because they are hard to watch and more so for young viewers. Here if your teen is willing to read subtitles, they won’t be so affected by Fantine’s downfall.

Compared to the musical, Bernard’s film doesn’t sugarcoat the Thenardier’s greed and cruelty. They aren’t made to seem funny or cute. This film also makes it clear that the young boy, Gavroche was the Thenardier’s son.

Even with almost five hours of film time, spread across three films, Bernard edited out some of Hugo’s work, even some parts that are present in the shorter musical. I missed the expected scenes at the end when Marius distances Jean Val Jean from Cosette.

All in all, while it’s a time commitment, this production of Les Misérables is well worth watching if you’re a fan of the story. I will definitely look for more films directed by Raymond Bernard and for films featuring Harry Baur, who was great as Jean Val Jean.

 

Word of the Week

How I love onomatopoeia!

tohubohu: \TOH-hoo-BOH-hoo\
noun
1. chaos; disorder; confusion.

Quote:

Learn this: joy is not merely joyful; it is great. So be lovers gaily then, the devil! and marry, when you do marry, with the fever and the dizziness and the uproar and the tohubohu of happiness.
— Victor Hugo, translated by Charles E. Wilbour, Les Misérables, 1862