I dreamed a dream: How Cambridge is basically Les Mis

Chase Caldwell Smith 2 February 2015

Huddled in a blanket, stuffing my face with newly discovered digestive biscuits (I had ignored them because I thought they were exclusively for the elderly), my eyes are glued to the laptop screen. My friend stops slurping her hot chocolate long enough to whisper, in half-hushed reverence, “It’s about to start…”

We have a minor freak-out while Les Miserables begins. The minutes pass. We sing along. Russell Crowe’s vocals are criticized. It is only when, as Anne Hathaway lies dejected in a frozen shipyard, moaning about her awful life, that we have a sudden epiphany. We improvise.

“I dreamed a dream in days gone by! When hope was high and life worth living” – is drained out by our own, not always in tune, but enthusiastic, attempts.

“I dreamed a dream that I would get a first! I dreamed my supervisor would be forgiving…”

This goes on for an embarrassingly long time, although, luckily for us, the student next door is sleeping. As the film carries on, it becomes increasingly clear to us that Cambridge is essentially Les Mis with (somewhat) less singing.

So when the scene shifts, with Sacha Baron Cohen stumbling about – “My band of soaks, my den of dissolutes. My dirty jokes, my always pissed as newts” – we are quick to note, “This is Cindies.”

He’s not done though: “Food beyond compare. Food beyond belief. Mix it in a mincer and pretend it’s beef!”

“Caius Formal Hall?”

The scene changes to Paris, where over-exuberant students wave around red flags and drink countless bottles of wine. Singing idealistically, they declare a revolution. “This sounds an awful lot like King’s College…”

Our ultimate achievement, however, is in realizing that “One Day More” basically complains about an essay crisis. As in our lives, the evening-before begins with a dash of wistfulness: “One day more. Another day another destiny…”

Les Mis gets the lock-yourself-in-your-room bit spot on too: “One more day all on my own! What a life I might have known…”

Then comes the midnight angst as delusion begins to set in: “One more day before the storm! The time is here!”

Finally comes the 3 a.m. rush of reality: “Tomorrow is the judgment day. Tomorrow we’ll discover what our God in heaven has in store. One day more!”

As the film ends, with tattered biscuit packets strewn across the floor, we agree that this was a superb use of time.

My friend grins as I get up. “Watch out for all this rubbish. You’d better make sure to look down as you head out.”

“At the end of the day it’s no big deal.”

“I see what you did there.”