The Goddess Helena as Madame Thénardier
By N Mark Castro
If Helen of Troy was responsible for the launch of a thousand ships … then Helena Bonham Carter has been responsible for the launch of a thousand films.
Her chameleon-like acting transforms an obscure yet imaginary character into life. And there is only one word in the entire English dictionary that I could find that best describe this. This is it: Magical!
After all, who would’ve thought anyone could possibly do real justice in breathing life to the Red Queen?
So it isn’t surprising that Helena Bonham-Carter would eat the very character of Madame Thénardier. Perhaps the only problem is that since she’s given life to so many similar characters, some would focus on such similarity, without fully appreciating the nuances involved. If any, she has succeeded in stealing the film les Miserables with her understated performance.
If any, it’s the web of the Thénardiers that holds the together story of Les Miserables. They are described as belonging “to that bastard class formed of low people who have risen, and intelligent people who have fallen…” (Hugo, 48) and had been responsible for attaching all the other characters together.
The Thénardier family is the bizarre web that holds the various parts of the story together, and connects the characters through the years and different locations. Without their greed, deception, and other various actions, the story of Les Miserables could have been much different and far shorter, and would have resulted in far more needless deaths. Despite the fact that they seem to be much smaller and less important characters, the Thénardiers’s lives are the base of the story, and support all the other lives and paths of the main characters that are focused on in this tragic book and this film.
Which is why no matter how much uglify Helena Bonham-Carter, her inner beauty would always shine.
In the book Les Miserables, which wasn’t included in the film, we are first introduced to the Thenardiers when Fantine comes upon Madame Thenardier in the yard of their inn and asks Madame Thenardier if she will take Cosette and raise her. Madame Thenardier agrees, so long as Fantine pays for the child. Monsieur Thenardier has been listening from the doorway, and shouts out his price to keep the child.
The Thenardiers raise Cosette poorly, using her as a servant girl and taking the money Fantine gives them to use for their own gains. Thus Cosette is raised lonely and lowly. People call her The Lark because she is “not larger than a bird, trembling, frightened, and shivering, awake every morning first of all in the house and the village” (Hugo, 49).
Which is why Helena Bonham-Carter’s presence, with the able support of Sacha Baron Cohen (a role owned by Alun Armstrong), gave endearing lives to what otherwise would have been formulaic expressions, yet with Helena’s beauty shining through.
After all, there is a reason why she is considered a goddess … for only a goddess can make such transformation.