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.

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.

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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Victoria, Season 3, Episodes 2 & 3

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Episode 2: London Bridge is Falling Down

Starting right when the first episode ended, the second episode begins with Victoria in labor and the barbarians, a.k.a. Chartists are storming the palace gates. With Bertie and Vicky peering through the doorway, Victoria gives birth to Louise. Albert gets the guards to protect the palace and then scolds the former French king, duke and the blonde noble from last season. He hates gambling.

The Chartists decide to take their petition to the palace, but one of the rebels, puts up a fuss. Abigail is a bit perplexed and smitten with him.

The Duke of Wellington comes to the castle to inform the Queen that hundreds of thousands of Chartists are coming to the castle. The Duke, Lord Palmerston and PM advise stopping them with soldiers. The Queen doesn’t want to go to that extent.

Francatelli convinces Miss Skerrett to elope after he’s bought a small hotel. While she’s in love, her work means a lot to her. I don’t think she’ll be able to quit. Francetelli even kids her on that account.

Louis-Phillipe gets in trouble for scaring Bertie and Vicky by telling them about how royals can violently lose their heads. Albert asks him to leave.

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Albert’s “cottage” Osborne House

Someone finds a load of guns (500!) in the office space for the Chartists. The PM and Lord Palmerston take this as proof of their danger. They come close to convincing Victoria to send the army out to deal with them. However, Victoria realizes that the Chartists are too poor to acquire all that weaponry. She gets word out to Duke Wellington in the nick of time. The crisis is averted and the spy was caught. Still Albert gets his way and the family and nobles are off to the Isle of Wright to his “cottage.”

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Episode 3: Et in Arcadia

All are frolicking at Osborne House, but soon the Prime Minister and Lord Palmerston, who brought the troublemaking King of Hungary to London in the Queen’s absence, are summoned to the Isle of Wright.

Francatelli quits, which causes a stir. His wife “Miss” Skerrett still hesitates about announcing that she’s married and leaving.

Throughout the episode, Albert hectors Victoria for wanting to return to London and for craving her subjects’ love. On top of that, they clash over how Albert handles Bertie and his resistance to books and tutoring. Albert sees Osborne house as a paradise and it’s quite annoying that his family doesn’t love it there. Victoria and Albert’s conflict escalates to an argument at dinner with the full court watching when the Queen throws a glass of water in Albert’s face.

Victoria’s feeling overwhelmed by her marital strife and political problems back in London when Skerrett finally announces that she’s leaving and that she’s gotten married. Victoria feels betrayed and is hurt that Skerrett did all this behind her back.

My Take

Both episodes speed along and in addition to the main plot have storylines with the Duchess who’s married to an ogre, who’s sent her young son to boarding school against her will and the men she’s flirting with. Victoria’s sister Feo continues to plot and manipulate.

I was surprised that Miss Skerrett did tell the Queen she was leaving because she got married. I thought she wouldn’t be able to and I stand corrected. I still don’t see how Skerrett will be happy not working at the palace.

We’ve got plenty of comic relief with Victoria’s attempt at swimming and a mix up with the bedrooms between Foe and the Duchess.

The sibling rivalry between the adorable Vicky and Bertie is realistic as is Victoria and Albert’s marriage problems. Sure most people aren’t married to royalty, but V & A’s arguments and reactions are authentic and engaging. Again, Victoria offers compelling drama.

The Idiot

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Ayako and Kameda, the Idiot

Kurosawa’s adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot blew me away with its depth and complexity of emotion. Many years ago I saw David Schwimmer in the lead role in the play at The Lookingglass Theater. That adaptation left me cold. I still recall how bored my friend and I were. In spite of this bad experience I was curious what Kurosawa might do with the story.

In a nutshell, The Idiot is about Kameda, a man who due to an injury during the war is rendered an idiot. His particular cognitive “deficiency” is that he’s somewhat mentally slower and also sees the worth of every person and thus loves every individual. When he returns from the war to Hokkaido, he stays with a family and the feisty daughter Ayako, against all her wished, falls for him.

In the same home is another boarder, Mr. Kayama who though he loves Ayako, has agreed to marry a kept woman famous for her beauty, Taeko, for 600,000 yen. Taeko’s photo is up at the train station and when Kameda and Akama, another man returning to the city, see it they’re swept off their feet. Taeko and Ayako both despise Kayama for valuing money over love.

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Both Taeko and Ayako fall for the idiot, Kameda, because he’s the only person in the story who’s honest. No one has met such an honest, perceptive person. Although these women are at their most genuine when they’re with Kameda, you know that they’ll corrupt him and that no healthy relationship is available for him. Still Kameda is thrust into a confusing web between these women, his friend Kayama, Ayako’s parents and Akama. While the film has several grasping, selfish characters, we see that they’re grasping at a virtue that they value but will also corrupt. There are no villains, just people who can’t make up their minds and whose indecision and schemes are lethal.

The Japanese actors, all Kurosawa regulars, were masters of emotion which this story requires. It’s a long film at almost three hours (cut down from over four), but Kurosawa kept me interested.

The Miniaturist

Based on a novel, The Miniaturist has been adapted by the BBC and PBS. Set in 17th century Amsterdam, it’s the story of  young Petronella Brandt, who agrees to be married off to a rich merchant to pay off her late father’s debts and save her mother and siblings from poverty. A Vermeer beauty, Petronella finds herself in a weird family. Her husband Johannes is never around and after almost two weeks hasn’t the energy, or so he says, to consummate the marriage. Her sister-in-law Marin is Puritanically devout and has a strange obsession with her brother. Marin’s behavior suggests there could be something incestuous between Johannes and her, but by the end of episode one, we see that was a diversion. I think the plot’s full of these diversions.

The two servants are Otto, whom Johannes bought from slave traders and Cornelia. I’d expect such a wealthy man to have more servants.

There’s a lot of mystery once Petronella’s wedding gift arrives. It’s a miniature version of her new home. She’s told to hire someone to decorate it and finds an artisan, a miniaturist, to make a few new objects for her. When she goes to meet the miniaturist he (or she) is out. Petronella never meets this mysterious figure. The odd thing is that she’s presented with additional objects she didn’t order, such a baby cradle and a box with keys. Somehow the miniaturist knows all the family secrets.

I find the plot annoying because it’s so overtly manipulative. I feel like the writer is toying with me. Also, despite a lot of research and detail, much of the dialog and themes are very modern or a modern person’s projection on to the past. Stereotypes, like the cold, rich friends and the pious sister also distance me from the story. I wish there were more characters who spoke. It seems like they’re keeping the budget down by having such a small cast, but perhaps that’s now the books was. I’m not sure I’ll watch the rest. The Victorian Slum Home show was much more interesting.

It’s a pity because I think this setting is fascinating. It’s no Poldark or Victoria. Even though I feel for Petronella, there’s something about her that makes her distant. I wish some characters were more warm-blooded.