Les Mis

Out of tunes

The Guardian - G2 - - Front Page - Stu­art Her­itage

Tele­vi­sion, like all other forms of tra­di­tional me­dia, is in mor­tal danger. Au­di­ences are frag­ment­ing, ad­ver­tis­ers are flee­ing and money is run­ning out. If it wants to sur­vive, tele­vi­sion needs one good idea. Just one golden bul­let of an idea that will rev­o­lu­tionise ev­ery­thing and re­mind peo­ple that an in­valu­able source of en­ter­tain­ment lies in the box in the cor­ner of their room.

Ladies and gen­tle­men, that idea has been found. It’s a non-mu­si­cal ver­sion of Les Misérables.

Dur­ing the course of six weeks, stars such as Do­minic West, Lily Collins and David Oyelowo will tell Vic­tor Hugo’s epic story of revo­lu­tion and re­demp­tion in a just-an­nounced BBC adap­ta­tion that prom­ises ab­so­lutely no singing what­so­ever. At no point will Oyelowo make a noise like a rhino walk­ing bare­foot over Lego as he at­tempts to clat­ter One Day More into a flam­ing skip. West will not roar or honk any­thing about be­ing able to hear peo­ple sing. Collins will cat­e­gor­i­cally refuse to do that Su­san Boyle song.

No mat­ter when you tune in, you will be con­fronted only by the sight of peo­ple say­ing things in a nor­mal way. It will be in­cred­i­ble. Your teeth will re­main un­ground. Your sphinc­ter will re­main un­clenched. It will give you ev­ery­thing you ever wanted from a mu­si­cal with­out the agony of any ac­tual mu­sic. Cut this out and show it to your grand­chil­dren, for this is what progress looks like.

For too long, the worst part of any mu­si­cal has been the mu­sic. All the bloody mu­sic, swelling up out of nowhere and killing the story dead for three min­utes at a time so that some wob­bly lipped non-en­tity can stum­ble on and war­ble about how sad they are in rhyming cou­plets, even though they’ve al­ready just said that they’re sad, plus they’ve got a sad face so ev­ery­one had al­ready worked out that they were sad ages ago.

Mu­si­cals are my least favourite form of en­ter­tain­ment, and I say this as some­one who has spent some of his morn­ing watch­ing a car­toon di­nosaur kick a car­toon ele­phant un­con­scious on the Youtube Kids app. They have no place in the mod­ern world now that we have speech and emo­jis. Watch­ing a mu­si­cal in 2018 is like be­ing made to lis­ten to some­one with ter­ri­ble taste’s au­to­mated Spo­tify Dis­cover playlist while they sit on your chest and stop you from leav­ing their house. I just asked how your mum is, for cry­ing out loud, you don’t need to re­ply by play­ing me Gal­way Girl three times in a row.

I can’t bring my­self to trust peo­ple who en­joy mu­si­cals. I seem to have pegged them all as cheats, as peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand sub­text or nu­ance, who don’t want to do the work and con­stantly have to have ev­ery­thing spelled out for them. You can draw a line be­tween the in­ven­tion of the mu­si­cal and civil­i­sa­tion’s low­est point – the ad­vent of peo­ple clap­ping along to the Strictly Come Danc­ing theme tune. It is a straight line, and it ends badly.

So wild horses couldn’t stop me from watch­ing this new Les Misérables se­ries. I don’t care that Liam Nee­son al­ready made a mu­si­c­less ver­sion in 1998 and there have been dozens of other Mas­ter of the House-free adap­ta­tions of the novel be­fore. It means I’ll fi­nally get to ex­pe­ri­ence a mod­ern ver­sion of the story that doesn’t give me a clus­ter mi­graine. A ver­sion where Rus­sell Crowe won’t look into the cam­era, pull a face that makes him look like he’s try­ing to digest some­thing ter­ri­ble and then ma­li­ciously release a har­row­ing in­fra­sonic fre­quency into the uni­verse. A ver­sion where Anne Hath­away won’t win an Os­car for syn­chro­nis­ing the pop­ping of her snot bub­bles to the crescendo of I Dreamed a Dream. It’s not the ideal ver­sion of Les Mis – that would be a three-se­cond clip of a French­man with a messy face say­ing: “Cor, steal­ing can­dle­sticks is a bad idea in­nit?” – but times are hard and we need to take what we can get.

It is bound to be a suc­cess, but I’m root­ing for it nev­er­the­less. If enough peo­ple watch Les Misérables, then the BBC will con­tinue to treat us with mu­si­c­less ver­sions of fa­mous mu­si­cals. Maybe we’ll get to see a mu­si­c­less ver­sion of Mamma Mia!, where the un­var­nished truth of Donna’s neg­li­gent moth­er­hood comes to the fore. Maybe we’ll get to see a mu­si­c­less Grease, where Danny’s friends will just ver­bally ask him if he as­saulted Sandy in­stead of couch­ing it in song. Maybe we’ll get to see a mu­si­c­less ver­sion of Cats, where some cats in­tro­duce them­selves and then noth­ing else hap­pens. It will be a won­der­land.

And it will only be the start. Now that science has cracked the song­less mu­si­cal, it can go on to slice out all the other worst parts from oth­er­wise en­joy­able medi­ums. Fan­tasy books with­out maps in the front. Songs with­out drum so­los. The train is in mo­tion now, and no­body can stop it, and we only have Les Misérables to thank.

There is no place in the mod­ern world for mu­si­cals now that we have speech and emo­jis

Revo­lu­tion­ary… Davi­doyelowo,lily Collinsand­do­minic Westare­setto starinthebbc’s newver­sionofthe Vic­torhu­goepic

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