My favourite musical is "Les Misérables." I love the story, and the score. I've watched the 10th anniversary and the 25th anniversary DVD, many times. I also enjoyed being in the audience at the O2 for the 25th anniversary concert performance. You could say I'm a bit of a fan!
When there were first whispers about this musical being made into a movie my daughter was excited and kept me informed with gossip and news along the way. By the time the film was released in the U.K. on January 11th 2013, I knew I wanted to see the film at the cinema yet had mixed feelings over whether I'd enjoy it. I was in two minds because, I thought the film couldn't possibly compare (and might even be annoying) after the stage version. But after seeing a couple of trailers, just before the film was released, I couldn't help but be impressed with the fantastic film sets. I decided I'd try to be open minded and not compare the film too much with the stage musical.
~~ABOUT LES MISERABLES~~
Les Misérables was written by Victor Hugo in 1862.
The story begins with Jean Valjean toiling as a convict just before he is released on parole. Valjean has served nineteen years in prison. He was initially sentenced to five years for stealing bread (to save his nephew from starvation) and an extra fourteen more after escape attempts.
It's nineteenth century France (1815) and the country is once again a monarchy. Many of its people are starving and disillusioned after revolutions and the killing of the king yet again they have a monarch. Poverty and misery is widespread.
Valjean is also known as Prisoner 24601, as tattooed on his arm. This number seems to also be imprinted onto Inspector Javert's brain as he is obsessed with bringing the ex-prisoner to justice when Valjean later breaks parole and the two meet by chance.
Valjean endures a tortuous time after being paroled. He attempts to find work but as his papers show he is a criminal on parole, no one will employ him or give him shelter, that is until he stumbles upon The Bishop of Digne who provides shelter and sustenance. Valjean by now sceptical of human nature, steals silver from the church and makes a run for it. He's soon found by local constabulary who return him, along with the silver, to the priest. They tell the bishop in disbelief that Valjean claimed it was a gift. The kindly man of God insists that Valjean is speaking the truth, thanks the police for their vigilance and sends them on their way. Valjean is amazed that the priest took his part.
The bishop informs Valjean that he can keep the silver but must use it to do good deeds. Valjean leaves and vows that he WILL live a godly life. He leaves to seek redemption from his sins.
Valjean assumes a new identity, therefore has to break the terms of his parole. He becomes a wealthy and upright citizen, helping others. But Javert is always around watching and waiting; looking for prisoner 24601!
The last time I saw Les Mis performed on a London stage I was privileged to see tenor Alfie Boe portray Jean ValJean. Now Alfie's voice is absolutely incredible and after seeing and hearing him, in terms of vocals, no Valjean, on screen, or stage, can compare. David Shannon acted the part wonderfully and sang beautifully; Colm Wilkinson must be the most famous stage Valjean so, how did Hugh Jackman compare? Well Jackman is no stranger to the musical stage and I thought he took on this role well. He was convincing as the main character and I was only disappointed with his solo of "Bring him Home." Jackman's version wasn't great; I don't think this song suited his voice at all.
I thought Anne Hathaway as poor, wronged Fantine, struggling to provide for her child, was marvellous. I did hear that during filming when her hair was cut to sell, she did actually cry. Well, this I can easily believe as the emotion looked genuine.
Here came the disappointment. Rusell Crowe, as Inspector Javert, looked tough and mean, as he trailed Valjean, but didn't quite get the emotion across I suspect this was because he isn't a good enough singer and couldn't put enough feeling into a song which, I felt, he struggled with. I didn't think it mattered too much for this part if the actor had a good voice or not but those watching with me all said Russell Crow was the worst actor out of those in the main roles.
Amanda Seyfried as adult Cossette acted and sang beautifully. Young Cosette was played by Isabelle Allen and was delightful.
I saw Samantha Barks as Eponine at The O2 and she went on to play this role on the west end stage. I thought she acted and sung wonderfully and has come a long way since I first saw her on television when she fought for the part of Nancy in "Oliver." She didn't win the part but was certainly noticed.
Eddie Redmayne as Marius was very good and probably more fanciable than some others I've seen in this role. Redmayne played the part with emotion and has a very good voice. I loved his rendition of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables."
Aaron Tveit played the part of Enjolras, Marius friend and brother in arms. He has a lovely voice and a face to match.
Daniel Huttlestone in the role of street wise urchin Gavroche was perfect.
Innkeepers, Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, were for me, a little disappointing. I didn't feel the humour was there as it is in the stage version. I think if I hadn't seen Les Mis on the stage then I’d have enjoyed these scenes more but I thought they played these roles more as a seedy couple in a televised Dickensian drama than how I think of the Thénardiers, who are so awful they become comic. In truth their portrayals could possibly have been closer to the couple in Victor Hugo's novel (it's a long time since I struggled through this classic) and as I have said, it's probably very different acting the comedian on film, and in song, as it is in front of a live audience. We thought Sacha Baron Cohen was quite good but weren't as keen on Bonham Carter.
THE BISHOP of DIGNE
And who better to play this role than an original cast member of Les Misérables, Colm Wilkinson? Wilkinson was the original Jean Valjean but is a little too old for this part now so it was lovely to see him play the bishop and still sing so beautifully.
Les Misérables is directed by Tom Hooper, director of Academy Award winning film "The King's Speech."
I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Of course, if you're a fan of the theatre production then you won't be able to help but compare the film to the stage version. I've seen the stage version three times and it's difficult not to make unfair judgements, as film and stage are different and require a different type of acting. I would think it's easier to act the comic on-stage when you can feed off of the audience. In the film version the actors have mainly been chosen for their acting prowess or perhaps in some cases for their name, which will help to draw in the crowds. I have now seen many actors portraying the roles and singing the songs and I can say I thought the film cast, in the main, were excellent with just a few exceptions. Overall casting was good.
As well as the acting being convincing the vocals, in the main, were impressive. The emotion of this story was there throughout. I noticed a few slight differences to the stage version but my daughter informed me that these were in the book. I won't say more as it would be a spoiler. It was a shame that the comedic scenes were a little disappointing and, whatever newcomers to Les miz believe, the stage version especially, is very funny at times, but the film was still very good. I was greatly impressed by the film sets; some were breath-taking.
Comments heard outside cinema when the film had finished.
Man A: Who was the man who looked after the little girl?
Man B: What, Valjean?
A: No, the one with the little girl!
B: You mean Hugh Jackman?
A: No, the one who is Wolverine!
Man to female companion: I didn't think there'd be that much singing. Could've done with a break!
*Les Misérables is rated 12A.