Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A review of Les Miserables

I came across this college paper I wrote back in 1999 on Les Miserables.

Please contact me for citation information and to obtain permission.

Welcome to the Movies, Victor Hugo

A cherished classic novel of one’s redemption and a nation’s revolution comes to HBO. Victor Hugo’s classical novel “Les Miserables,” is about a convict who changes his life due to the single act of mercy by a bishop, but faces difficulty doing so because of an ambitious policeman.

Bille August, the director of the new movie, includes two international acclaimed actors: Liam Neeson, who got an Oscar nomination for Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” and Geoffrey Rush, who won an Oscar for Scott Hick’s “Shine.” Both actors interpret the characters Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert with splender.

For fifteen years, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of David Charles Abell, has been performing Hugo’s classic as a musical at the Palace Theatre in London—located at the very heart of London’s West End theatre-land. The Hugo musical by Alan Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg—who are also known for writing the musical Miss Siagon and Martin Guerre—continue to receive praise from international critics. On October 8, 1995, Cameron Mackintosh produced Les Miserables on their 10th Anniversary performance.

As a musical, Hugo’s novel comes to life with passion and rage. As the characters sing with every emotion, it captivates the audience attention and causes them to empathize with Hugo’s characters. When Javert, playe by Philip Quast, captures Valjean, played by Colm Wilkinson, while rescuing Marius—a young rebel who is in love with Cosette—shouts, “Down! Javert! He’s standing in his graaave! Give way! Javert! There is a life to save!” The audience can feel the dramatic pled for human mercy from Valjean.

The musical could not have such an impact without the orchestral score by John Cameron and the direction by David Charles Abell. With every cry the actors made, a sound by the woodwinds could be heard. When Valjean is caught with a difficult decision of whether-or-not to let a man take the blame for his crime and then decides to confess, the mixture of woodwinds and brass instruments rapid playing indicates the confusion Valjean feels. With the lyrics, “My soul belongs to God, I know I amide a bargain long ago. He gave me hope when hope was gone. He gave me strength to journey on Who am I? Who am I? I’m Jean Valjean,” the orchestra hits a climatic point and fades easily to silent as his last line is, “Who am I? 24601!”

The musical is not only sad and gloomy, but there is a moment where Boublil and Schönberg brings light comedy to the tragedy by introducing Thénardier is an innkeeper who Fantine entrusts her daughter Cosette to, while Fantine finds way to earn money. From a sorrowful feeling in the first few chapters of Act I, the audience switches to a gleeful feeling with the comical Thénardier chorus, “Master of the house. Quick to catch your eye. Never wants a passer-by to pass him by. Servant to the poor. Butler to the great. Comforter, philosopher, and life-long mate. Everybody’s boon companion, Give’s em everything he’s got. Dirty bunch of geezers. Jesus! What a sorry little lot!”

In an attempt to capture Valjean, Javert is taken prisoner by Marius, who had gone to meet Cosette. After a little orphan is shot by French troops, the rebels choose to kill Javert, but Valjean convinces them to let him shoo Javert in the alley.  With stubbornness and loyalty to the law, even after Valjean frees Javert, he promises Valjean, “If you let me go, beware, you’ll still answer to Javert!” With convincing portrayal of a man frustrated and tired of hiding, Colm shouts to Javert, “You are wrong, and always have been wrong. I’m a man, no worse than any many. You are free, and there are no conditions, No bargains or petitions. There’s nothing that I blame you for. You’ve done your duty, nothing more.”

After 17 years of trying to capture Valjean, Javert questions his fate after Valjean spares his life. While Valjean accompanies the troops escorting the injured Marius to his house, Javert sits alone at the Pont Notre Dame over the Seine River to think of the proper punishment for his rival. At first Javert says, “What sort of devil is he (Valjean) to have me caught in a trap and choose to let me go free,” then contradicts himself by saying, “This desperate man whom I have hunted he gave me my life. He gave me freedom.” Philip Quast faces a difficult part to interpret, because Javert has somewhat contradicted himself. As he makes his character show some grown respect for Valjean, the voice changes to self-hatred, because for the first time in his career he is going to disobey the law as he jumps off the Pont Notre Dame.
Please contact me for citation information and to obtain permission.

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