I’ve taken it a little bit easy this weekend with regard to writing, which was nice. Having said that, though, my brain has continued ticking over and I’ve been bombarded with flashes of panic about all the things I need to change and tweak and fix in The Novel. I’ve taken careful note of them all, and am poised and ready to dive into the work today after a couple of days away from the keyboard. But before I get there – some thoughts on What I Did for the Weekend. (Just a note: if you don’t know the story of Les Misérables, and you don’t want to spoil it for yourself, you may want to give this blog post a miss!)
As part of our celebratory/relaxation weekend, my beloved brought me to see ‘Les Misérables’ yesterday, and I really enjoyed it. We’ve been humming the themes ever since, and singing things like ‘Would you like a cup of teeeeeeaa?’ at one another. As you do.
Before I share my thoughts on the movie, I have to admit that I had no prior experience of ‘Les Mis’. I’ve never seen it on stage, and I only had a vague familiarity with some of the big show-stopping tunes. I knew the bare outline of the story, and I was aware of certain things (like the eventual fate of Fantine and Gavroche, and the tension between Jean Valjean and Javert), but going into the movie, I had no real idea what to expect. I was glad of that ignorance, in a way, because it helped me to enjoy the story for what it is; I wasn’t comparing it in my head to x-stage version or y-stage version, or whatever.
I loved it.
From the very first shots of the prisoners working to pull in the giant galleon, to the emotionally draining ending, I loved it. Visually, it’s stunning – particularly the shots of the galleon, but also the barricades and Fantine’s experiences among the ‘lovely ladies’ – and emotionally, it almost wrung me out completely. From ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ (which nearly killed me, I cried so much) to the final number on the barricade, I don’t think I had more than five minutes of dry-eyedness. (If that’s a word.) It touched me so much, thanks in huge part to the performances of the actors. I would challenge anyone not to weep at Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine, for instance. She put so much emotion into her role, and despite the inevitable fact that the character and the story are so melodramatic, she made it seem believable. When she’s weeping as she sings about her dreams for her life going wrong, and how she can’t bear where her life has led her, you believe every syllable of it. Plus, of course, she’s a wonderful singer, so that helps!
I was delighted with every aspect of the story, in fact, except for one – that of the grown-up Cosette. This has nothing to do with the performance of the actress (Amanda Seyfried, who I normally can’t stand, purely because she’s everywhere), but all to do with the character. She’s portrayed perfectly well here, the actress does a fine job of acting and singing the role, and she gives it her all. But I just really didn’t like the character. I’m sure that’s not the impression you’re supposed to get from Cosette – I’m sure you’re supposed to love her purity, her virtue, her gentleness, her loving heart, her loyalty to her father and her barricade-lover, Marius. Heck, you’re probably supposed to love her just because you loved her mother, Fantine. But instead I found myself thinking: ‘What a sap. What is Marius thinking? He should totally go for Éponine instead.’
I wonder if this is because of all the YA novels I’ve read, or if it’s just the way my mind works. Maybe it’s because I always root for the underdog, so I’m always going to be in favour of the girl who loves in vain, the one who realises the man she adores will never love her back and who – in the end, admittedly, and almost too late – does the right thing and helps him find his true love. Éponine (at least, in the way she’s depicted in this movie) is a brave, resourceful, intelligent character. Despite the fact that she’s grown up with two immoral, thieving parents who can’t have given her a good background, she shows herself to have a kind and generous heart and a courageous spirit. She loves Marius, and has the power in her hand to keep him apart from her rival, Cosette – but she chooses to do the right thing in the end, and enable them to be together.
Cosette, on the other hand, is a much narrower character. She’s treated like a slave as a young child and dreams of escape. Rescued and cared for by Jean Valjean, she spends the rest of the story being cossetted (which makes me wonder if there’s a connection between that word and her name!) and looked after like she was a precious jewel, guarded both physically and in terms of her reputation. Her ‘father’ (Valjean) goes through a horrendous experience in order to ensure her beloved Marius survives the barricades, and Marius himself falls in love with her as soon as he sees her. The question in my mind as I watched the movie was ‘why?’ What was lovable about her? Why did everyone who met her feel the need to go to Hell and back for her?
I’m aware, of course, that the source novel was written at a time when a woman such as Cosette would have been prized as the highest and most admirable sort of woman – the quiet, sweet, virtuous, even-tempered, pure sort of woman. Éponine, the survivor on the streets, the woman who takes a bullet for the man she loves, the woman who joins the fight on the barricades, would not have been an admirable character at a time when women were prized for their gentility and loveliness. A woman like Éponine – ‘fallen’, sullied by life, stained by experience – could never be the symbol of hope and renewal that the pure, angelic Cosette was. It shows how times have changed, then, that Éponine’s the character who made the biggest impression on me – and, I’m sure, on most modern readers/audience members. It seems so unfair that the story ended up the way it did!
Have you seen the movie? Any thoughts?
I hope you had a great weekend, too. I’m still on a high after Friday’s good news, but also on tenterhooks waiting for the shortlist to be announced this Friday. Fingers crossed!