Les Mis

The much anticipated film was finally available for preview and I went expecting great things. The trailers were all very well done, I liked the idea of the actors singing live rather than using pre-recorded tracks as it added to the emotion; which they had in spades.
The film began with an almost cartoonish look, the colour, camera fly in and soaring music bringing us into Jean Valjean and other post revolutionary French prisoners hauling in a ship while waist deep in surging seawater. The singing was powerful and the music brought the audience into the emotion. The film did not deviate from the stage play, and that was part of its charm. The singing throughout was strong with notable high points from Eddie Redmayne as Marius and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. Hugh Jackman was a powerful Valjean and Anne Hathaway teetered on the edge of melodrama as Fantine, but sang beautifully and carried the part really well. Gavroche and young Cosette were both fabulous, Gavroche, in particular carrying just the right amount of cheek and charm. The revolutionary young men were well acted and sang strongly. The film did translate the play well and the soaring music helped, as in the play, to draw the threads together. The acting was strong from nearly every actor.
The whole film was very good, but there were aspects that I liked less.
I have to mention Javert. Russell Crowe was able to sing, but not to carry the emotional burden of playing such an Old Testament character. He simply did not make the character show any feelings. This should be a character who is unyieldingly strong and righteous. He should crave justice almost as vengeance, but all he did was sing the lines with a rather dour look. The parts where he was meant to threaten Valjean’s existence rang hollow. It was difficult to form any belief that he was a determined man who haunted Valjean and pursued him. Although he was always there, he was just that.
On the other hand, Eddie Redmayne was a superb Marius. He was naively passionate about the revolution, fell madly in love at the first sight of Cosette and had a young man’s blinkered resistance to what was around him, namely Eponine. Samantha Barks’ Eponine was also brilliant, she sang as beautifully as she does on the stage and really made the viewer feel her plight. Helena Bonham Carter in the comic relief role of Mme Thenardier was excellent, but Sacha Baron Cohen as M. Thenardier was less strong. Maybe it’s just that after seeing Matt Lucas in the concert version no one can do it as well.
Overall, the stage play has translated well to film, but needed a defter touch in parts. Some camera work was disconcerting. Too many extreme close ups. Make up occasionally overdid the poor, starved peasants a bit too much and Valjean on his deathbed looked like he had conjunctivitis, but otherwise it was a good film. Given the sweep of the stage play it would be difficult to contain the story in a film of just over two and a half hours and it managed to take the audience on the journey of people caught in turbulent times and still to communicate Hugo’s plea for humanity.
Flawed in parts but still very worth watching.

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History Boys

I’m a bit behind the times. I actually saw this play last week and I’ve not yet blogged about it even though I did rave about it a bit through the week. It was a funny and thought provoking play about a group of sixth form boys at a Sheffield school. We were introduced to them through their General Studies class with Hector and old iconoclastic teacher who loves the classics, particularly another old bugger, Auden. He gives the boys lifts home on his motorbike and feels them up on the way home. The boys aren’t traumatised by this, in fact they vie for his attention and are very fond of him. Hector teaches the boys to love poetry and classic literature and even teaches them French, much to the disgust of the Head teacher who is unable to quantify Hector’s teaching and so brings in a much more educationally acceptable teacher Irwin (Matthew Newton) who knows how to get the boys to pass their final exams and get into the much coveted Oxford University.
Alan Bennett shows his scorn for this character by giving him a job on BBC2 after having him fall of Hector’s bike because he ‘leant the wrong way’.
The boys are the wittiest bunch and wryly observe the goings on at the school. They are resilient survivors who show us that teachers don’t really understand them (with the possible exception of Hector). They are confident and accepting of one another.
The educational debate threaded through the play is particularly apt at the moment given the governmental concern for quantifying everything that teachers do and the possibility of performance pay for teachers who ‘value add’. Irwin would get paid under this system as he could be percieved to have taught them how to pass the exams and get into Oxford; Hector would not get paid even though his is the spine that exists in the body of their knowledge and his teaching will continue to support their love of learning. Get that Julie Bishop!
This is a must see play if you are at all interested in education, learning (yes, they are separate things) and like a good laugh. The funniest scene was the French scene where the boys were using the subjunctive to wish for what all 18 year old boys wish for. The head teacher enters the room and the boys become wounded soldiers crying ‘Aidez moi!’ . They clearly do not need help as they frolic around the room, one trouserless. At several times the audience was convulsed by the wit threaded through the play and it is one that will stay with you for quite some time, much like Hector’s teaching I suspect.