Well, miserable, actually. To be completely specific, Les Misérables.
Some background. I can remember the day that LesMis upped sticks from the Barbican and moved into the Palace Theatre. I had only recently become a Bit of a Fan (understatement) of West End musicals and it intrigued me. I was… I think, about fifteen at the time. I went out and I bought the soundtrack and although I liked it, it didn’t make me want to rush to go and see it live. Being a surly teenager, I liked my musicals to have a bit of a beat to them; not to be semi-operatic.
I still sang along, though. Loudly and with good cheer.
I recall a review somewhere saying ‘what a load of short-lived, self-indulgent tosh. It’ll be lucky to last the first year of its run’. Bet he feels stupid now, what, 25 years later? Shows you what these people know about what appeals to the Musical Theatre Loving World at Large.
So I didn’t rush to see the show. There were things in the queue before it. Cats. Starlight Express (for the 90th time). Five Guys Named Moe. Time. Return to the Forbidden Planet. I left it for a while.
Actually, therein lies the first of my great LesMis-related regrets. Leaving it as long as I did, I am possibly the only LesMis fan in the entire world who has never got to see the Great and Glorious Colm Wilkinson as Valjean on stage. The first time I finally went to see the show, the part was filled by Dave Willetts. I remember joking at some point that the esteemed Mr. Willetts was following me around the West End – he was also the Phantom when I saw that. (Yes, I missed Michael Crawford, too).
Regardless of seeing LesMis sans Colm, I loved every second of it. The way it was staged, the performances, the breaking down in tears every so often… loved it all. It was not long before I went back to see it again. And a third time. And to this day, I have never been as moved by a musical as I have been by this one. Never have I had a crush on a character (not an actor – the actual character) as much as I had on (sigh) Enjolras.
So when the announcement came that they were finally adapting it for screen, I was delighted. I was prepared to accept that there would be necessary cuts and changes (more on that in a moment), but it didn’t matter. It was my Glums and there it’d be, on the great big screen, with great big sound and great big glory.
Well, guess what I went to see this morning? No, not The Hobbit, that was last week. Quiet at the back, you. It’s very rare that I have the urge to review something after seeing it, but given my inherent love for the musical, I can’t help it. It’s very hard to be detached from it when you have such preconceptions, when you’ve listened to the soundtrack countless times over the past twenty odd years, but I have tried.
And it’s long. So consider it cut. Also, spoilers, although I’m sure you know most of them.
I know it’s a film. I could wax lyrical about the sets (which were superb), the cinematography (which was beautiful)… but it’s also a musical, and a much-loved one at that. It’s a musical with characters you actually want to care about and so the focus of the review is on them.
First of all, Hugh Jackman as Valjean.
I knew Hugh Jackman could sing. Who hasn’t laughed at the YouTube video of Wolverine in Oklahoma! after all? What I didn’t know was if he could sing Valjean. And the good news? Yes. Yes, he can, although I wasn’t sold on his version of Bring Him Home. Colm made this song his own. He always sang it beautifully softly – like the prayer that it’s meant to be. Also, be amused that Colm is so young in this clip.
(When he showed up as the Bishop of Digne, which I was expecting, I cheered. I was not alone. My fellow Glums were there in the cinema with me).
But I can forgive Hugh Jackman his less-than-sterling performance of my favourite song from the musical because of his performance right at the start of the film, in Valjean’s Soliloquy. Holy heavens, but he turned that into a wonderful bit of heart and soul-searching. He played the character delightfully, with just the right amount of guilt about him. You always felt that he, as a character, was so tense and anxious that he would snap at any provocation. An excellent performance and a brilliant bit of casting. He made a great hero.
And for every hero, there has to be a villain. And in this case, that is far more literal than I would otherwise have liked. Russell Crowe.
Maximus Decimus Meridius. The man who moved me to tears in his performance in Gladiator and the man about whom I had the greatest reservations on hearing he had been cast in the role of the devilish do-gooder Javert. I’ve always felt sorry for Javert, seeing him as more of an anti-hero than a villain. After all, he’s only doing what he believes is right. He’s an object lesson in what happens when you become obsessed over something. Like, say, West End musicals. It’s a dramatic role. I believe, although I stand to be corrected on this, that it’s a part written for a baritone voice, where Valjean is a tenor.
(An aside: baritone = bad guy. Never have a deeper voice than your contemporaries, fellas).
And Russell Crowe, although he could carry a tune well enough, just didn’t have the oomph. He didn’t have the belting gravitas that for me the role of the tragic Inspector needed. Also, he sounded faintly as though he was holding his nose. I could have overlooked his sub-par singing if his acting hadn’t been dreadful. Seriously, at times, the guy looked as though he had wandered onto the set by mistake and just played along out of terror. During Javert’s Suicide, I believed that he really wanted to throw himself off the bridge. Just to get out of doing another song.
I may be doing him a slight injustice. He wasn’t awful. Just… not what I would have liked.
So we move onto the next tier. The supporting cast. Let’s talk about Anne Hathaway as Fantine. No, really. Let’s talk about her. Because for twenty five years, Fantine’s story has always made me say ‘oh, that’s sad, when does Do You Hear The People Sing? come on again?’ Today, I watched Anne Hathaway dissolve into a character completely and then watched that character descend into the very darkest pits of despair. And it was amazing.
‘Fantine’s death has never moved me to tears’. Well, there’s another statement I can send to the great phrase recycling bin in the sky. Because she was outstanding. She has an Oscar nomination, I believe? Does she deserve it? Yes. Will she get it? I hope so.
Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried as Marius and Cosette respectively (I did get that the right way round, didn’t I?) I was nonplussed and disinterested in the casting of these two, because I have very little interest in their songs (apart from one) and yucky love story throughout the musical. Amanda Seyfried was fine, nothing spectacular. Nice enough voice, played the part nicely.
Eddie Redmayne was brilliant, though. He had a youthful exuberance and innocence that fit the part so nicely with none of the bitter cynicism of (sigh) Enjolras. And by god, he belted out Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. This means that joining the phrase about Fantine’s death comes the phrase ‘meh. Marius.’ (Sorry, Michael Ball). Eddie Redmayne took the part, made it his own and made me actually care about his character, although I still wanted to slap him round the mush over the whole Éponine thing. Which moves us nicely onto Samantha Barks as Éponine.
As any girl who likes musicals will tell you, we all want to be this character. We all want to be the tragic waif who blindly stumbles around the war-torn streets of Paris after a man she loves desperately and who can barely remember her name. We all want to sacrifice ourselves to save his life, even at the cost of our own because zomgoose he loves the blonde bimbo, why should I even care any more?
Yeah. I wanted to be her too.
Éponine is one of those roles that you can’t help but desperately fall in love with. She’s a fool, naive and innocent and A Little Fall of Rain, whilst cut (which actively annoyed me), was still emotional going. It was satisfying that there were a chorus of sniffles around the cinema from people pretending that they weren’t crying. Girl done good.
(Sigh) Enjolras. Yeah. Aaron Tveit… along with Russell Crowe was my second big disappointment in terms of the casting. Looked the part, acted the part, gave a 50% singing performance with very little heart in it. When singing One Day More, whilst convincing Marius to ditch the tart and come give his life on top of a pile of broken furniture, he sounded more like he was saying ‘are you going to the footy next week’? He had no passion. (Sigh) Enjolras needs more passion. More…
Of the remaining cast, the standouts were always primed to be the Thénadiers. I did get to see Alun Armstrong play this part on stage and he was bloody amazing. I’ve seen a couple of other Thénardiers and they were fun in their own way, but goodness me, Sacha Baron-Cohen was a revelation. When I saw the costume and the ‘look’, I wasn’t convinced. Then he strolled in, with his few on-screen moments, and stole every scene he was a part of. Really. He was great. Helena Bonham-Carter, conversely speaking, looked the part. But I was not captivated by her performance at all. I think she might have been on the ‘wrong turn’ walk with Russell Crowe.
The kids were very good; the young Cosette cute but not nauseating and Gavroche grimy and adorable. The supporting cast of students didn’t get the build up they deserved in my opinion and mention for ‘most surprising facial acting moment from an extra’ award goes to the leader of the militia who lowers his gun seconds after realising what a hero he is for shooting a little boy.
Overall opinion? It was excellent. I don’t usually bother with ratings, but I’ll do it to give you a feel. I’d give the film 8.5 out of 10 stars if pressed and present here my key likes and dislikes.
- The performances of the majority of the cast.
- Fitting Colm Wilkinson and Frances Ruffelle into the film felt like a lovely nod, and on that note;
- The frequent nods to the stage musical; certain movements, certain scenes, the way things looked.
- The mixing up of the songs that meant even for a veteran like me, you were never quite sure where you’d be next. After One Day More had finished, I was going ‘but, but, (sigh) Enjolras hasn’t done his Do You Hear The People Sing? goodness yet!’
- The sets were outstanding. Visually, this film is gorgeous. The costumes are beautifully made and the squalor of the slums was palpable.
- The fact the film had the power to move me to tears, both in the places I was expecting and also in a couple of places I was not expecting.
- Russell Crowe’s one moment of redemption; looking down the line of dead rebels and finally losing his iron grip on reality.
- Most of the rest of Russell Crowe’s Javert – although I did finally warm to him about six seconds before he chucked himself off the bridge.
- Some of the ensemble cast were wooden and irritating. One woman in At The End Of The Day kept absently staring off to the left of the screen. It’s possible, I suppose, that perhaps that Russell Crowe had just walked in and she was wondering what he was doing there. Regardless, it annoyed me.
- I was disappointed with Master of the House. On stage, that’s a big, in your face show-stopper. For my money, it felt a bit too subdued.
- The cuts. In A Little Fall Of Rain, the line that always chokes me up is Marius singing ‘you would live a hundred years if I could show you how, I won’t desert you now’. They didn’t play it. I choked up anyway, but I’d like to see the uncut version of this film with the full versions of the songs where they were – in some places rather obviously – cut.
- Just the one. I will be spending a fortune on this film. I will buy the soundtrack, largely so I can compare it to the original and complain about the differences. I will probably go and see the film again, just to be sure. I will buy the DVD when it comes out and I will single-handedly keep the Andrex company in business.
I loved it.