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I have an unfortunate habit of recording television programmes on serious subjects that I don't feel quite up to / I am busy at the time they are on, and not getting round to watching them. Slowly the DVR fills with serious television. And then on a day when I am off sick and want to watch TV* I look at the options and they are full of such things as:

* Subtitled TV drama (can't be watched without glasses).
* Documentaries on historic atrocities.
* Thing that I didn't watch at the time because actually I don't care.

Which is why in the last two days, as April continues to pretend to be winter and I have a stinking cold, I have turned to elderly videos and to YouTube and watched two films about young women finding new worlds, with bonus music.

Legally Blonde - the Musical

This was broadcast on MTV a few years ago, and some kind person has put it on YouTube, and the equally kind copyright holders haven't taken it down. It's a fairly straight adaptation of the film (a terrific comedy), very pink, and I found it a lot of fun.

Legally Blonde was always a film not only about sex, but about class. Elle is marked not only by her particular style of pink femininity, but by her West-coast-ness, her evidently very new money, her not being a 'natural fit' at ye olde establishment Harvard Law School. The major change** in the adaptation draws on this in its depiction of Emmett, from a posh bloke played by Luke Wilson who is also a partner in Callaghan's firm, to a TA who is himself also an outsider, on grounds of class. The alliance between Elle and explicitly working class characters (and working knowledge) was always one of the interesting parts of the film, and the explicit focus on it in the musical adds narrative heft to the book. Emmett and Elle's shared outsider status gives Emmett clearer motivation for his friendship with Elle beyond the film's "he's a nice person" and allows Elle to mirror the benefits she gains from his insider knowledge of Harvard and law with her insider knowledge of the transformative power of dress (and the money to pay for it).

Musically, it's not particularly interesting. The tunes are light and catchy, it moves with zip, but the music is of the kind that adds entertainment rather than depth. By far the best songs are Callaghan's jazzy Credo-like Blood in the Water and the courtroom Gay or European (2.35 for the song), which together steal not only the best tunes, but the best rhymes. Both, interestingly, are about categorisation, the first about how the (would-be) lawyer sees themself, the latter the challenge posed by the person who defies categorisation - and in its ultimate revelation of its subject as both gay and European heralds the thematic resolution of the show, in which Elle can be herself as well as a successful lawyer.

Beauty and the Beast

The 1991 Disney cartoon version, which has its own musical adaptation that I am now kicking myself for not seeing when it was touring a couple of years ago. This is an old favourite, and having not watched it with nephew in the end, I felt I would see it anyway. I can't remember if I saw it originally at the cinema or when released on video, in any case I thought it was good then and I still do. Watched on video, the age of the animation shows, though I suspect it would look less old with the sharper definition of a DVD (checks YouTube, yes it does), but the visual inventiveness holds up nonetheless. It was the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and while I won't claim it should have won*** it is certainly on a level with plenty of Oscar nominees over the years.

Belle is a charming heroine, intelligent, resourceful, a book-lover, and kind, and she and the Beast's cathedral-like library are clearly a match from the start. The Beast himself is a great cinematic creation, an exaggeration of every macho cartoon hero ever, bristling with muscles, hair, and temper, who must go through a process of civilization, but crucially one he achieves for himself. Disney is traditionally good at villains, and Belle's ruthless would-be spouse Gaston is a suitably monstrous contender. With pot-shots at anti-intellectualism, gender roles, fear of the outsider, and the way a charming small community can become stifling and predatory, the witty script is engaging throughout and there's not a dud song in the piece. It has become a cliché to deride the fairy tale prince the Beast turns into compared to his furry start, and it's true that the prince could never live up to him, but he's not bad, just conventional, and that was never going to win over viewers. I suspect that part might work better in the stage version, if played by a sufficiently handsome real human being.

*I have worked out why I for the past couple of years I have been reading for pleasure much less in than I used to: because I find it difficult to read when my eyes hurt. This came to me yesterday as I realised that I had read more in the last month than I have recently, and yet somehow I didn't want to read yesterday. And then I put 2 and 2 together...

**There are a couple of important minor ones as well, in the change in the finale proposal from being made by Emmett to its coming from Elle, and Brooke Wyndham's accidental public revelation of her alibi (is this also necessitated by the greater class focus of the show, given that Brooke is to some extent a snake oil salesman, whose products make her rich, but can't deliver their promise, even for her.)

***The Silence of the Lambs did. I can't remember if I've seen it and forgotten, in only clips.

****Tale as Old as Time may give the ballroom scene, but Gaston is surely the best character song.

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