Monday, 14 January 2013

Les Miserables – A Story That Unites Us All (Well, Almost)

*Warning - Post Contains SPOILERS*

This is going to be just one droplet in a flood of Les Mis Movie reviews, but considering the emotive nature of the film, I think the word “reaction” is more appropriate than “review”.

My first reaction is to how far the appeal of this movie has stretched – far beyond the very dedicated but narrow viewership of musical theatre fans alone.  In my local cinema, on the second night of its release, in a normally barren land for culture, it has sold out to a roomful of people from all walks of life. I think what has captured most people is simply the fact it’s a well made movie with an intricately beautiful tapestry of a story at its core, woven around generations of characters – more than a story about revolution or class or persecution, it’s a story about people. The fact that it’s a musical is secondary, but hopefully those who are enticed by the story or cinematography will fall in love with the music as much as we, the theatre fans, do.

I was pleasantly satisfied by Anne Hathaway’s Fantine. Reading back on my initial thoughts on the trailer back in June, she was one I had big reservations about. But it worked, thankfully. Fantine is such a desperately miserable character that Hathway’s sweet, raw voice added to the sense of her fragility and hopelessness and had me in tears for her pathetic lot in life.  

Unfortunately I can’t say the same for Russell Crowe , I just cannot get onboard with his Javert. I tried to have an open mind watching him but from the moment he sung his first line, I just knew his voice didn’t suit the character. His acting was fine but the vocals let it down and Javert is such an important part – perhaps the most interesting character of them all.

Nor was I impressed with Amanda Seyfried as Cosette – she sounds like a fragile little lamb and I think Cosette is stronger than that. Her voice is just not good enough for those high notes she has to sustain. But, her part is small enough not to have the same kind of impact on the movie that Crowe does.

I always had high hopes for Hugh Jackman’s Valjean, as he comes from a background of musical theatre. I was nervous that he couldn’t cope with this iconic role at the start but as the character picks himself up, his voice gets stronger with it and I was relieved that it had been an acting choice to start weak. There were moments when I thought he was trying a bit too hard with his singing – perhaps having a bit too much of a warble and when he was singing ‘Bring Him Home’ I couldn’t help but think “They have Colm on set .... get him to do it” but that was unfair. While he’s no Colm when it comes to singing, he did a damn good job of a song he must’ve been nervous to put out there. As the central focus of the story, Jackman carried it well. 

Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers – this was always going to be an excellent pairing, wasn’t it? Both have perfectly sinister, comedic stylings to suit these sneaky, scheming characters. Sacha’s little one liners are perfect mood lifters – the laughter was loud and almost hysterical (probably thanks to the momentary light relief) when he called Cosette ‘Courgette’.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised that I think Samantha Barks was just a perfect cast choice as Eponine. I wondered how she’d fare with the subtle on screen acting but she adapted with apparent ease and it’s a damn shame she hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar in best supporting actress. Shame on the academy.

The students were also all brilliant. Eddie Redmayne as Marius and Aaron Tveit as Enjolras flew the flag for these characters with confidence and vocal ability that shone. If you dropped either of them into the stage show now, I’d have no complaints.

I liked the nod to the stage show and theatre fans - after Enjolras is killed, he hangs from the window in exactly the same manner as he hangs from the barricade.

The first 15 minutes of the film were quite slow and the singing was weak, though this isn’t surprising given Hugh Jackman didn’t drink any water for 36 hours! I defy any singer to sound good with unnourished vocal chords.

Even so, I was nervous – was this going to be another disappointing rendition of a musical that has been “in my life” since I can remember? (*cough* Schumacher’s Phantom)

It quickly picked up, though – I’d say from the moment the factory scene begins – that’s not to put down Colm Wilkinson’s portrayal of the Bishop. As the original Valjean, I’m so pleased he was given a place in this film and he did an amazing job of what he was given. It’s just the story is still waiting to pick up at this point.

I think the nature of this musical is that the more lives that Valjean affects, the more paths he crosses, the richer the tale becomes.

From the factory scene onward, it became a fun game of ‘spot the westenders’ who make up a good majority of the ensemble cast. They may not have had the leading roles they’re used to (excluding Sam Barks of course) but at least they’ve been acknowledged and their presence is everywhere.

The linking scenes between times and/or places was often really beautifully done both visually and aurally. The one springing to mind right now is after Javert sings ‘Stars’ – the combined impact of that last note blending into ‘Look Down’ while the camera swoops across from Javert’s elevated platform overlooking the city, down, down into the streets where the beggars roam.

Talking of ‘Look Down’ - what a brilliant little actor Daniel Huttlestone is! And yet I’d heard nothing about him before watching the film. The focus with the children has been on young Cosette, Isabelle Allen; Probably because she is the “face” of the movie - Her image has been the one plastered over busses and billboards throughout the country and she has ‘shot’ to fame more dramatically than Huttlestone who has been grafting away in professional productions for a few years now. The moment he bounds onto the screen, challenging an upper class man travelling through the slums, this experience is obvious in just one sweep of his hand.

I couldn’t help thinking of walking dead when all the beggars were pummelling the window though - That’d be a twist we weren’t expecting.

There was a very poignant moment, after Gavroche has been shot and laid out with the other student’s bodies where Javert takes off his medal and places it on Gavroche’s lapel. This is a subtle moment that could only be portrayed through the medium of film. It signifies the start of Javerts spiral into doubting his world view and beliefs and I thought it was a touching moment.

Fans of the stage show will have noticed a few of the songs had been switched about. I was fine with this as logistically it worked out for the story in the way it had been done for the film. What I didn’t get is why they occasionally switched the lines around. For example, Valjean as the mayor:-

Stage show – “I run a business of repute, I am the mayor of this town”
Movie – “I am the mayor of this town, I run a business of repute”

Why? This didn’t seem necessary. It happened a few times, but this one really grated on my ear.  It didn’t flow as nicely.

It’s only minor quibbles I have, really, with this film which I otherwise loved. The tell tale sign of the impact this movie was having on the audience was the perfect silence. I wondered whether there’d be popcorn rustling, awkward giggling and whispering, singing along. But no, silence. Wonderful silence – during Hathaway’s I Dreamed a Dream you could’ve heard a pin drop in that room and that makes me so happy. This is a sign of people engrossed in the world of characters that I’ve grown up with.

Tom Hooper has done a fantastic job from all angles and this is as near to perfect for a film adaption as I could have hoped. My sobbing during the finale was not just for the emotion of the culmination of the story but because as a theatre fan this is a film we can be proud of. Well done all involved. Let’s hope the new fans will be inspired to see the stage show now and keep this show, that means so much to so many, going for another 25 years (and more).

Book tickets to see the stage show that inspired the movie at

Read orginal Cosette Rebecca Caine’s blog post on what it feels like to be part of the original cast


  1. What a stunning reaction Jaclyn. I couldn't agree more, it was certainly emotional.

  2. Thanks, Jordan :) I'm sure you were emotional too, even if you're too tough a cookie to cry :P hehe

  3. I really like how this reaction reacts primarily to the acting/singing talent in the film in a positive fashion. For me it's a sign that a film/book/TV series or even a stage production is truly excellent when it is the characters/actors that receive most of the love from the audience. BTW This blog has really good reactions/reviews. Internet trawling theatre moguls should quite clearly pay attention to it. :)