LES MISERABLES: The View From The UK!
Fan and theatre director Amy Hanson gives her verdict...
The critics at advance screenings have had their say, the BAFTA and Oscar nominations are out, but now the time has come for Tom Hooper's adaptation of LES MISERABLES to face its toughest challenge - the millions of rabid fans who have kept the beloved musical playing to packed houses in the West End for 27 years.
Counting myself among the dedicated faithful, I have genuinely never been so excited about a film in my life, but also terribly nervous. What if it doesn't measure up? I know how I like every single note to be performed, I've toiled my way through Hugo's original novel repeatedly, and I have seen some truly amazing musical theatre performers in my numerous times of seeing the musical on stage. I own every recording that I can get my hands on, and attended the first showing in my region attired in Javert-style great coat, one of my plethora of official t-shirts and "Red and Black" nail varnish. Kleenex prepped, I even forgo my usual movie ice cream. This is a picture that demands my full attention.
We are taken through 17 years of intricate plot and memorable characters by a star-studded cast who achieve a consistently high standard as they sing of their hopes and dreams and fears. The opportunities of film really make Hugh Jackman's lead performance as Jean Valjean amazingly effective. His transformations from haggard convict to respectable mayor, from doting father to elderly invalid are remarkable and he puts in a performance that you will not be able to believe comes from a man best known as Wolverine.
Anne Hathaway deserves all of the hype she is getting for her turn as Fantine. A million miles away from The Princess Diaries or The Dark Knight Rises, she sings it wonderfully and gets the audience grabbing their tissues for almost every moment that she is on the screen.
Russell Crowe is passable as antagonist Inspector Javert. He seems to lack the confidence to vary his delivery while he sings, but doesn't really detract from the piece and his final solo is quite enjoyable.
Eddie Redmayne is excellent as the young revolutionary and romantic interest Marius, and proves himself a surprisingly capable singer. A few little additions to his part strengthen his character beyond the part that is too often played as puppy love and little else.
Aaron Tveit and George Blagden as the contrasted revolutionaries Enjolras and Grantaire were highlights of the ensemble. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen were probably better than I expected, though Bonham Carter's performance was really just a facsimile of her Mrs Lovett. Amanda Seyfried was a little weak in what can be a wonderful soprano role, but Samantha Barks is much improved from the 25th anniversary concert, bringing far more subtlety to the part of Eponine and some tears to eyes in her final duet with Marius.
These performances are supported by excellent design work and nicely subtle arrangements of the music that never threaten to overtake the singers. The familiar songs are reordered quite a bit, freed up from the traditional structure of a two act musical and in an effort to clarify the plot a little. Overall, this worked really well. My main quibble was with the plot of Javert believing himself mistaken about Valjean's identity. Some lyrics were changed due to the new order, and without mentioning Valjean's name in conjunction with the arrested man or showing Jackman's convict brand, it seemed to be lacking a bit of sense for those new to the story.
Is it the perfect iconic version of the stage musical I wanted? No, but it never was going to be. It is more of a companion piece, different but equally good. This film offers things that the stage show never could, just as the stage show has strengths that cannot be matched. On stage, the unlikely plot coincidences and actors unloading their deepest feelings in song to nobody in particular seems perfectly natural, something that may ring a little false for many accustomed movie goers.
Film, however, allows greater scope and a real visceral impact, full of dirt and blood and tears, really bringing home the misery of poverty and suffering in 19th-century France. Fans of the book will love little touches and allusions, musical fans will be delighted to see familiar faces in the smaller roles and generally, Hooper captures the spirit of both Hugo's novel of French society, as well as Boublil and Schönberg's musical with its sweeping universal themes.
When the ending came, I was unable to join in with the first ovation I've ever seen in a Scottish cinema. Not that I wasn't impressed or moved - quite the opposite. The full force of emotion just hits you like a steamroller at that point and, in my case, left me a sobbing mess for quite some time afterwards. Unrelenting, unreserved and unashamedly emotional, this is an immensely cathartic film that will make you feel like you've been through the wringer and leave you singing long after you've left the cinema.
Overall, this film adaptation of LES MISERABLES is the best thing since stolen bread.