Adapted from Victor Hugo’s iconic novel, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a prisoner, breaks his parole and his attempts to make a new life for himself in post-Revolution France. Pursued by the relentless law officer Javert (Russell Crowe) he tries to hide his past life from his adopted daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). The various host of character make their way to Paris where a group of young students are planning a rebellion.
With a production such as Les Misérables, which famously received crippling critical reviews at it s opening only to go on to become one of the most popular musicals of all time and spreading to over 40 countries, it seems that reviews for the film adaptation are just as conflicted and will have little impact on the public one way or another. As you’re here though, there’s no harm in reading on is there?
As the cryptic title suggests, ‘Les Mis’ doesn’t follow the usual upbeat, all singing, all dancing format. Well, it may be all-singing, but with an entirely straight face and not an ounce of cheesiness, Les Mis is quite unusual in this sense and with the inclusion of battles and rebellion is likely to appeal more to the male population than most other musicals. Such emotive songs created by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil have captured the hearts of millions in the stage production are just as captivating on the silver screen. As Hugo himself has stated (admittedly over a hundred years before the musical) “Music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to be silent” so lets just assume he would approve of his tale being set to a tuneful tempo!
Even those unfamiliar with the show will no doubt have heard I Dreamed a Dream thanks to Susan Boyle’s pioneering efforts but with this being the first musical film version of Victor Hugo’s novel (There have been more than eight non-musical versions), there has never been a version like this. Anne Hathaway delivers a devastating rendition, her face in close-up revealing her pain, and broken spirit but still retaining that defiance and shred of hope that will not be extinguished. It is a revelation with devastating emotion and it is those minutes of screen time that will surely nab her Oscar come February.
Recording the songs live has provided the actors the freedom to access the emotions behind the lyrics and begs the question why so few musicals use live performances as the difference in emotional payoff is astounding. No, the songs may not sound as polished as in the stage show, but interspersed with tears, gasps and whispering fragility, the effect on your tearducts will speak for itself and provides an intimacy that simply isn’t possible in a theatre. Hugh Jackman, who has trodden the boards in many a theatre, is also outstanding. Possibly having the most screen time, both his physical transformation and emotional range are astonishing and he hits each note, injecting it with a wonderful vulnerability, his finest moment being his conflicted soliloquy at the beginning of the film. No doubt he has the most difficult role and his commitment and emotional variation is quite incredible.
All of the cast are wonderful, each breaking our collective hearts in their own unique way. Just how they managed the physical endurance of singing almost every line, with many songs being shot in one take is mind-boggling and frankly it’s exhausting just watching them! The inclusion of many performers from the stage show is a welcome addition. Aaron Tveit as the dashing revolutionary Enjolras is excellent as is the beautiful Samantha Barks (who also starred as a contestant in BBC’S I’d Do Anything). Her wonderful voice had already landed her the role of the lonely Eponine in both the stage show and the 25th anniversary concert of the show only to come full circle and earned her the coveted role in the film. With arguably the best vocals in the production she stuns and undoubtedly this will not be the last we see of her.
Helena Bonham- Carter and Sasha Baron-Cohen provide the comic relief needed in such an emotional saga, and though Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne as young lovers Cosette and Marius are excellent it is difficult to overcome the intrinsic sappiness of the characters. Having said that, Redmayne’s rendition of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables is a highlight. Russell Crowe as Javert is probably the weakest if the cast but still brings an understanding to character’s the unflinching moral compass. His voice is perhaps not as suited to theatre as it is to rock and he draws back on certain lines that deserve to be belted out.
Wisely Hooper has chosen to condense some of the songs for a shorter running time rather that cut whole songs so all of your favourites will be there, the shortening of songs is a shame but is only really noticeably in A Little Fall Of Rain, which doesn’t quite deliver the way it could. The addition of a new song ‘Suddenly’ is heart-warming though the addition of new material may take some getting used to for die-hard fans.
Hooper also takes full advantage of the strengths of cinema over theatre with wide sweeping shots and intimate close ups and the attention to detail in the costuming and the grandeur to the whole production is certainly deserving on the 8 Oscar nominations the film has received (Including Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress and Original Song ‘Suddenly’) and if it doesn’t have you bursting into song or itching to wave the Tricouleur by the end, you must be Miserables!
A triumphant spectacle that will not disappoint fans of the musical is sure to attract a new audience to musicals. Jackman and Hathaway are outstanding in this timeless tale of passion, faith and sacrifice.
- Les Miserables: ‘Some songs took 21 takes’… (telegraph.co.uk)
- Les Miserables the movie v Les Miserables the musical: Film Face Off (metro.co.uk)
- 2013 Oscar Nominations Announced (Kinselluloid)
- ‘Les Miserables’ review: Hugh Jackman soars (newsday.com)