Happy Tuesday, everyone! Guess what? Today is another national anniversary for Greece. Every year on November 17th we remember and honour the Athens Polytechnic Uprising.
Since 21 April 1967, Greece had been under a military junta. On 14 November 1973, students at the Athens Polytechnic went on strike, occupied the building of the Polytechneio, and started protesting against the regime. Their demand-slogan was “Bread-Education-Liberty!”. In the early hours of November 17, 1973, the transitional government sent a tank crashing through the gates of the Athens Polytechnic, bringing down the main entrance to which people were clinging. The uprising triggered a series of events that put an abrupt end to the regime.
To honour the uprising and the memory of those who lost their lives during the regime, November 17th is considered a holiday for all educational establishments and commemorative services are held at schools, where we utter the names of the 24 young people who lost their lives the day of the tank invasion. In addition, we all lay wreaths and carnations on the monument within the Polytechneio on which the names of students killed during the Greek Resistance in the 1940s are inscribed.
In the spirit of the day, I wanted to talk about the book that narrates the most famous student uprising in fiction, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Since I am a big fan of the story, I decided to share my thoughts not only on the book itself but also on its different adaptations. Begining with Hugo’s original novel, I will then discuss the 1998 film, the musical, the movie musical, as well as the 2018 miniseries.
📕: Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
“Teach the ignorant as much as you can; society is culpable in not providing a free education for all and it must answer for the night which it produces. If the soul is left in darkness sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.”
Lovingly referred to by the fans as “The Brick”, this book paints the portrait of the every day life people in 19th century France. Through complex characters and with the background of the 1832 June Rebellion, the novel tells multiple tales of injustice, during which each character fights for their own ideals and the reader can’t help but to empathise with them.
It’s been years since I read it, but what stuck with me is the sense of hope it exudes. It isn’t a happy book (we know that from the title), but it leaves a feeling that “even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise”. It is a beautifully written novel that I believe everyone should read. On the condition, though, that they can sit through a whole chapter dedicated to the description of the Parisian sewers.
🎬: Les Misérables (1998)
This movie is on TV every Easter so watching it has become kind of an Easter tradition in my family. The casting is great and it is extremely well done by all technical aspects.
It has been critised a lot for not completely following the book, and these are all valid criticisms, but for me it is a good adaptation. It’s not easy to condence a thousand-page book in a 2-hour movie, afterall. What this movie succeeds into adapting in my opinion is the message of hope that the book leaves you with. Through all the hardships the characters go through, hope shines through.
🎼🎭: Les Misérables
“With all the anger in the land
How long before the judgement day
Before we cut the fat ones down to size
Before the barricades arise”
I haven’t had the chance to see the show, so I will talk about how I’ve perceived it from the cast recording. The great thing about this musical for us who can’t see it performed is that they story is all told through songs, so we don’t have to guess what is going on. There are significant liberties taken when adapting the book, but it’s understandable since there’s a change in medium.
Les Mis is one of the longest-running and most popular musicals and for good reason. The songs are incredible and the thing I love most about them is that they take some lines straight from the book. What amazes the most is how masterfully the writers managed to condence whole chapters of story-telling in a couple of lyrics. I truly love listening to the songs and everyone else truly hates me for signing them (terribly) all the time.
🎼🎬: Les Misérables (2012)
This movie is an adaptation more of the musical than the novel. Not having access to the theatre performance, it was the best thing to happen to me as a fan of the show. The criticisms it has received from theatre fans as well as fans of the book are valid, but it has made the musical more accessible to people worldwide and that’s a success on its part. The production is really good (and it involves an oscar-winning wig) and I like the casting choices (except for Russell Crow’s singing abilities), though it’d be nice to give the spotlight to more broadway actors.
📺: Les Misérables (BBC, 2018-2019)
Did anyone say disappointment? I was so excited when this series was announced because the format gives more room for an accurate adaptation of the book. And it was indeed the most faithful one. Unfortunately, I was let down.
It wasn’t a bad adaptation per se, but I believe it lacked heart and soul compared to the original work. They took whole excerpts out of the book and put them in the script- which was amazing- and then they forgot to develop the characters. It’s like they were ghosts of their book counterparts; they lacked personality. There were definitely some questionable directorial choices made, but the thing I hated the most was how hopeless this series was. Yes, the lives it narrates are miserable, but if you read it closely the story in itself is a hopeful one.
What are your thoughts on Les Misérables? Do you have a prefered adaptation?
On a not-so-unrelated note, I’m leaving here this link so you can learn more about what has been going on in Armenia for the past six weeks and why thousands of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh have found themselves fleeing their homes once again. The least we can do for them is stay informed.