If you leave a cinema with a pair of glasses on, chances are, you have cried through the movie. Usually that would mean it touched your heart in some way. However, there was a really high chance of me crying with disappointment during Les Miserables the movie IF they got it wrong. They didn’t… I was terrified they might have destroyed what I’ve come to think of as MY musical.. I am totally obsessed by this show. The music and storyline stole my heart around 25 years ago when I first saw the stage show.
Back then, I knew nothing about it, but some of my family were going up to see it. As I love theatre, I thought why not go… The day I was due to go and see it, Tony Barber (Australian Sale of the Century host) was on the midday show singing the more well known song from it… “Bring him home”.. Tony has a nice voice but because of his antics on tv he’s hard to take seriously. Still I was impressed. I knew nothing about the storyline so had no idea of the context of the song but I knew I liked it. I could never have imagined at the time how deep the music would sink into my being. A life long obsession had begun which I have passed down to my children who love it as much as I do. They knew all the words of the songs before they turned 10.
I have seen 3 professional productions, 2 amateur productions and own both the 10th and 25th anniversary concerts on DVD as well as 3 different soundtracks of productions on CD. The music stirs my soul so deeply, I can’t even begin to explain it to you. When I listen to it, my heart swells so much that it becomes overwhelming. Every nerve ending stands on end when I hear the cacophony of voices raised in united anger against the establishment in Do you hear the people sing…. I cannot help but cry when I hear the grief and loss of Empty chairs… and of course, I weep openly when I hear the pleadingly beautiful Bring him home. There are very few songs in the show that do not fill me with an overwhelming emotion of some sort. This show evokes the sort of passion and emotion I’ve always hoped to feel for a lover.. (and never have lol)
So when Cameron Mackintosh announced he’d be making a movie of the stage musical, I was scared. Terrified. I know it sounds crazy but this show is in my blood. Worse still, he was casting it from Hollywood big names instead of “real” musical theatre stars. What happens if he ruins it and that is the impression people have of it. It was a massive gamble to take. He had produced the 10th anniversary concert and the 25th.. He had a huge success with the 10th and so when he did the 25th with some bigger name personalities, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I’m not saying I don’t love it, because it’s probably my favorite version now thanks to Alfie Boe’s interpretation of Jean Val jean, however Nick Jonas (from the Jonas Brothers) struggled vocally in the role of Marius. I felt sorry for him trying to make his voice stand up to the classically trained singers. So having chosen more big name actors for the movie I was very apprehensive of how they’d go.
Wow!! Sums it all up I think.. I loved it. Look, definitely the voices of most of the lead parts do not stack up to the voices in the stage shows but that didn’t detract from the movie as I thought it might. In saying that, Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of the tragic Fantine was explosive. She sang with the voice and confidence of a classically trained singer. The only time her voice faltered was when it was cracking with emotion. My chest is still sore from how many times she tugged at my heart strings. When she sings the haunting “I dreamed a dream” all visions of talent shows and karaoke disappear into oblivion. She sings it with passion, anger, sadness, grief and every other emotion you can think of. Her face tells Fantine’s story without really needing the words. The words just make it even more powerful and heart wrenching than it already was, watching her degradation and downfall.
Hugh Jackman was barely recognisable as Jean Val jean when the movie started. He looked skinny and old. He played the lead role with the right amount of angst and pain. His voice while not as strong as the usual actors cast as Jean Valjean, was good. The music had been rearranged to allow for his voice. To be fair, good is probably not the right word to describe his performance. If I had never seen Les Mis before, I would have been blown away by his voice. The fact that I am so used to hearing huge voices sing the role, such as Colm Wilkinson, Alfie Boe and John Owen-Jones, has given me an unfair expectation as to how the role should be sung. Hugh certainly did a fantastic job. I think at times he was so intent on finding the emotions that his voice took a backseat.
I found the total opposite with Russell Crowe. I think he was so intent on getting the voice right that he lost the emotion. Many people see Javert as an emotionless role but I think it would be the hardest role to play because of the complexity of the emotions. Rusty’s voice was so much better than I expected albeit a bit nasally at times, but that really is nitpicking. He sang the role reasonably well considering he is not a classically trained singer and this role was written for just that. But I felt he didn’t get the depth of emotion Javert should portray. Saying that, he did a great job. I was pleasantly relieved as he was the one cast member I was really concerned about. (remember this is MY musical lol)
The huge disappointment for me in the movie was Mnsr & Mme Thenardier.. Master and Mistress of the house, played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. These roles provide the comedy relief of the storyline, whilst at the same time are very dark and shady characters. Helena Bonham Carter did a fair job but didn’t have the chemistry with her costar that is needed to make this pair of crooks work. Sacha Baron Cohen moved from a wobbly french accent to the cockney style we are used to hearing in this role. He was inconsistent, completely unfunny and all in all, a general disappointment. There though, my criticism of any cast member ends.
Amanda Seyfried played Cosette and I did wonder how she would be as this is a very hard role to sing. Her voice, again, wasn’t as strong as most who play this role, however she made it work. Her voice was incredibly high and fitted the role well. I think she took the role of Cosette and made it her own. It can be a bit of a bland role in comparison to the other stronger, more vibrant roles, but I felt she played it well. Her costar Eddie Redmayne, who played the love struck Marius was another stand out. His voice was strong and beautiful. He was totally believable in the role of the grief stricken soldier, angry that his friends all died and he was left to live. I think we will hear a lot more about him as the years go by.
Eponine was played by Samantha Barks. This was her first movie role but not the first time she has played this role. She was cast in the same role in the 25th anniversary concert and has a voice to die for. I felt in the movie she was held back from giving it the same oomph that she played the concert with. This isn’t a criticism. Stage work needs bigger movement, bigger voice, bigger emotions to be seen and understood. If she had played it the same it would have been overacted and she would have completely overshadowed her fellow cast members with her voice. Google both versions of her “On my own” and hear the difference. This may have been the first many have seen of Samantha, but I assure you it won’t be the last. This girl, along with Eddie Redmayne, is going places.
The young Cosette, Isabelle Allen and Gavroche played by Daniel Huttlestone were simply brililant. With that sort of talent at such a young age, the future of the film and stage industry is in safe hands. They played the roles with a maturity far beyond their tender years. This only goes to show what little people can do .. 😉
One of the highlights for me was when I realised that the bishop was played by Colm Wilkinson. Colm was the original Jean Val jean in the West End and Broadway productions of Les Mis. He is loved and respected in the role and set a benchmark for how the role should be performed.. To so many, myself included, he is Jean Val jean. So to see the mark of respect paid to him, in casting him as the bishop was delightful. I can honestly say, I have never really liked the role of the bishop as it’s very rarely done well. Colm took it and made it his own. There was no sign of his Val jean character in his portrayal. He looked and sounded different. He certainly was not Val jean playing the bishop.. He is indeed a talented and amazing performer.
While some of the lead characters lacked strength in their voices, they did an amazing job. The ensemble cast of soldiers, students, whores, turning women, etc were outstanding. The voices blended with a beauty that inspires so many goosebumps. Without giving too much away, the treatment of Do you hear the people sing, was the best I have ever heard or seen. It had so much more meaning. So many songs were cut out or cut down to a snippet of their original and while that, from a purists viewpoint, was disappointing, it is understandable. I would be more than happy to sit for hours lost in the storyline but I know it is not conducive for box office success to have such long movies.
I cried openly as I watched the movie, as did people sitting around me. It is a story that is full of misery (hence the name), hardship, cruelty, poverty and grief but it has a beauty that so many shows lack. Some of the camera work was not as complimentary to the movie as it could have been with too many closeups to capture the emotion on the faces of the actors. I don’t think the closeups were needed to convey the sorrow, anger and grief as the actors voices and bodies told the story all on their own.
As I mentioned, in my opinion, Anne Hathaway was the stand out. She was just amazing in the role. I bow at her feet with gratitude for getting Fantine so right. So much of the music was totally different from the original orchestration yet it worked. There was a new song written for the show called Suddenly. It wasn’t necessary. It was just another Disney style song and while I love Disney, it really didn’t have a place in the movie. Nice song but I don’t think it had the same depth or raw emotion as the rest of the music.
It should be noted that the soundtrack was recorded live. The actors didn’t have the advantage of a studio to get the perfect sound. They sang the songs live on set with only a piano track in their ear as accompaniment. Taking that into consideration, along with the fact that everyday actors are singing the roles written for voices of the highest calibre, they all need to be commended on their work.
I will definitely go back to see it again (and probably again and again lol). As soon as the DVD comes out, I will own it to add to my collection of other versions of MY musical. While it is released in Australia today, Boxing Day, I went to see it on Sunday at an advanced screening. It was an early Christmas present from Lachlan. I would encourage you all to see it. If, like me, you are a lover of the stage show, I think you will forgive the weaknesses of voice in exchange for the more intense storyline and emotions. If you have never seen or heard it before, give it a go. I think most people will be surprised at how good it is. If you know nothing of the story, it may be worth hiring the Liam Neeson version first on DVD to understand the storyline better. Maybe, it may touch a place in your soul, as it has mine.
Congratulations to Hugh, Russell, Anne, Amanda, Eddie, Colm and the rest of the cast and crew. To Thomas Hooper for giving it such depth and purity.. thank you! Kudos of course must go to the amazing writers Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer, who also wrote the film script along with William Nicholson. Mostly congratulations to Cameron Mackintosh for loving this musical enough to always do it justice. I am a happy woman knowing he didn’t let me down. No wonder I adore the guy. I should have trusted him as soon as I heard he was making the movie. It’s in his blood too. I’d give it a huge star rating…. but I’m sure you already realised that I loved it.. Hopefully you will too..
Happy Viewing…. Livvy 🙂