A dream of time gone by- Les Miserables’ historical reflection

I don’t really like musicals much. I probably should have told me wife this while we were still dating, as she is a massive fan. She sat through “the 50 Greatest Musicals” the other night, even though the programme was about ten years old. Now I will admit, she has made me realise that they’re not all bad. We saw the Lion King on the West End, and Mary Poppins on Broadway, which were both amazing. But I’ve also had to endure Grease, Footloose, Dirty Dancing and, worst of all, Mamma Mia. Dreadful, dreadful moments.

20130113-002944.jpgAnd if it had never been made into a film, I don’t think I’d have ever seen Les Miserables. It had never appealed to me- I guess that, like many others, I had ignorantly assumed it was just a very depressing tale. I think I even expected it to be more like an opera!

20130113-003135.jpgBut the film has changed all my preconceptions. It truly is wonderful, in so many ways. For starters, I love the time in history that it represents. Originally a novel written by Victor Hugo in the latter half of the nineteenth century, it captures the essence of a turbulent time beautifully. Hugo claims that his writings were based on either his own experiences or those of others, from the barricades and cannons of the French streets to the collapsed market cart and salvation of a prostitute from arrest, making it all the more fascinating. The insight into individual stories, interwoven into a bigger picture of hope, fear and revolution are quite engrossing. The plight of Marius and his friends, based on the 1832 June uprising, shares all the emotions experienced by a revolutionary with the audience. Javert’s conflict within himself, the different understandings of religious expression, and Jean Valjean’s road to redemption express the class divide of such a divisive era in all its clarity and complexity.

20130113-003215.jpgOn top of the historical appeal of the story, it is beautifully made and wonderfully acted. Russell Crowe has received mixed reviews, but I for one thought he performed the role of Javert brilliantly. Hugh Jackman is inspired as Jean Valjean, whilst for only 15 minutes of screen time, Anne Hathaway almost steals the show for her portrayal of Fantine, with her rendition of “I dreamed a dream” simply spellbinding.

The more I have reflected on it in the last twenty four hours, the more I realise just how enjoyable it was. I have been completely won over- to Les Miserables, anyway- Mamma Mia is still beyond dreadful.

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