Les Miserables... A Sung Through Theology for Today

I posted the most of this yesterday on the Flixster site which posts via facebook, so apologies to those who seem to be experiencing deja vu... However, I suppose that's how I felt watching Les Miserables on Saturday night.
Despite my love of theatre I have never yet seen the stage show, and the book has taken up a substantial section of shelf space for decades without being read (I now have it on my kindle as well, just incase I have a free 3 weeks on a train some time). But because various bits of the plot have been used as sermon illustrations for years, and a few of the songs have become standards on various "songs from the shows" events I have been involved in, I knew most of the plot before entering the cinema to see it... 
Did I enjoy it? Well, as I said to someone yesterday morning at church, after mulling it over for a night, "enjoy" is a word that wouldn't really come into my comments about it. There have been a lot of begrudging, and funnily dismissive reviews of it, but my own feeling is that there wasn't a truly awful performance in the entire cast (and you all know I'm fairly fast to latch on to a piece of ham)... yes the singing maybe wasn't all that it might have been, particularly for the stage show aficionados, but once the director Tom Hooper had decided on a sung through production in the actors' own voices, then that is what happens when you pick actors over singers, which is really what you have to do if you are going to project someone's face to the size of a bus! The criticism that Russell Crowe, especially has received, is, I think, unfair... again his voice isn't the richest, and he was a bit stiff... but the former is down to the director's call (see previous comment) and the second is due to the part... Eddie Redmayne as Marius and Samantha Barks as the long suffering Eponine managed to both act and sing, but it is easier to do that in secondary roles, whilst young Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche was astounding.
As everyone has commented Hathaway was indeed spectacular in her big song, giving an emotional tour de force, illustrating her acting ability and versatility (how many actresses could carry off that role and Cat Woman in the same year!?) , but it also illustrates the problem with the piece. And I know I am risking the ire of ever Glums fan in the world now, but the whole thing is just too earnest and (as it says in the title) miserable... And that level of emotional intensity is hard to sustain for the 3 days it seems to last... 1 hour 20 minutes in I was checking my watch. I suppose that is why the doubly-named double act of Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were so welcome every time they appeared to do their comedy villain routines... Blessed light relief. So did I enjoy it? No. Nor did I endure it... It was a good production, just not the masterpiece that some would have you believe... But then, I haven't seen the stage show 16 times, so what would I know?
But the reason I come back to this on the blog and am not simply posting this as a flixster review is the very reason it has been an open cast-mine for sermon illustrations... The rich seam of theology that Hugo intentionally wrote into the plot... from the grace extended to Jean Valjean by the Monsignor when he was caught making off with the church silver early in the story... the issue of justice/injustice in the treatment of Valjean in the first place, and the legalism of Javert... The blood sacrifice of the young idealistic students, who first gave up their privileged lifestyles and then their lives for the sake of the poor of Paris. Most of these have been widely commented on, and  I believe we can look forward now, not only to sermon illustrations, but years of movie clips in the more technologically advanced churches...
But I suppose the 2 dimensions that struck me most forcibly were firstly the revelation by Javert (SPOILER ALERT) that most of his motivation was that he too started out in the gutter, born in a prison... And secondly the seeming futility of the flag-bedraped student revolution. 
Both speak into the political and religious morass of contemporary Northern Ireland... Steeped in the mythology of blood sacrifice... But also built upon a cold social and religious conservative evangelicalism, that has fuelled directly and indirectly the development of a protestant middle class which has become dislocated from its roots, in a phenomenon that a colleague called "evangelical lift off"... where people in protestant working class communities, are "saved", find purpose and drive in their lives, and a bit more money in their pocket through giving up the demon drink and weekly trips to the bookies... and having done well for themselves, then clear off out of the area they originally lived in to give their kids a better life... Sometimes this happens without a religious genesis, but even where religion plays a part, salvation by grace all too quickly transmogrifies into salvation by works, and a fairly unforgiving view of the world...
So who is there to help working (or non-working) class loyalists articulate how they are feeling and where they are coming from? Their harshest critics are often those who previously came from their areas... Contemporary Javerts, always ready to condemn...
What we need however, are Monsignors who are ready, not only to offer words of redemption and salvation, but prepared to pay the price... Valjeans, who having known forgiveness and grace, are ready to share forgiveness and grace with others, even if it means going through shit with them (I'm not being rude... its part of the plot)... And Mariuses, who don't retreat to elite academic establishments elsewhere never to return, but who are prepared to stand with those who do not know the same privileges that they do; not to die (and kill) for some romantic unrealistic ideal, but to live and to love in a practical, messy, but ultimately hope-full way...  

But before I get too miserably serious... Here's a suberb parody of Hathaway's performance....




Cheers


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