Les Miserables: When theatre meets film

Chloe Jackson, 

With the unmistakable smell of hot rustling popcorn and excited chatter engulfing the room, it was clear to see that there was going to be something great projected onto the big screen.

As the lights dimmed and the adverts began, the chatting became hushed. 20 minutes in, the Universal titles rolled and the cinema became silent. Les Miserables was starting.

A renowned musical, playing in theatres around the world for 27 years (the longest running musical ever) the Les Mis fandom held their breath when it was announced there would be a film made of the critically acclaimed musical; would it be a winner? Would it be a flop? Time would only tell.

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) a desperate man, who steels bread to save his family from starvation and therefore becomes imprisoned. Once released after 19 years of slavery, police officer, Javert (Russell Crowe) makes it his personal mission to pursue the ex-convict, after breaking the terms of his parole. Skipping forward eight years, under a new identity, Valjean becomes a successful factory owner and mayor. His path then crosses with Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who while working in his factory gets involved in a scuffle and is therefore dismissed. The destitute woman turns to prostitution, so she can afford to send money for her daughter, who is kept by an innkeeper and his wife (Sasha Barren-Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter). As Fantine falls ill and subsequently dies, Valjean takes it upon himself to care for Cosette. The story eventually entwines with the 1832 Paris uprising, with adult Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) falling for revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne).

Jackman’s performance was wonderful. His ability to portray the poor, scrawny, desperate convict to the bourgeoisie, strapping, powerful mayor was impressive, to say the least. He had an ability to connect to the audience and without control, you became emphatic for his situation and grew to love the dishevelled prisoner. He clearly prepared for the role, losing 15lbs to play 24601, while gaining 30lbs for the hard working mayor.

The rest of the cast were also fantastic; Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sasha Barren-Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter to name a few, were perfectly casted, portraying their parts phenomenally.

What shocked me though, was Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Javert. The feisty Australian known for being gruff, was perfect for the relentless high guard character on paper, but something didn’t quite fit in the film. Though he acted the part credibly, it could be due to the “sung-through” style of musical, teamed with his less than impressive singing voice, which didn’t quite give the “umph” this character needs.

The camerawork was very clever. As a media student, this is something that I always look for, voluntarily or not. So, when Jackman broke down the fourth wall as poor, desperate Valjean after he is spared from arrest for the second time by the bishop, the audience were again drawn into the phenomenal work. Tom Hooper, the director, is renowned for connecting the character to the audience through the camerawork. He uses this in other films too, such as The King’s Speech. This dynamic style of direction is evidently successful as the audience begins to feel part of the film.

Ebcosette

For the Les Mis “geeks,” there was a sense of a bellyful of butterflies when the bishop was recognised as being Colm Wilkinson, the original Valjean in the musical. As the first, and as some describe, “the best,” there was no doubt that his addition struck a chord with those in the audience wearing the Cosette t-shirt and mouthing the words of each song.

Often, when musicals or books are made into films, essential parts can be skipped over, or even worse, skipped out. However, every single song, plot line and character from the musical was included in the film. Nothing was changed, nothing interpreted differently. It depicted the musical as what was hoped for; a film replica, which definitely gave it justice.

On the odd occasions in the film when you’d remember you were in the cinema, not 19 century France, the sniffles, sound of crumpling tissues and the sight of entranced, welled up eyes could be seen and heard throughout the room. There was a mutual sense of love for this film that doesn’t come very often on the big screen; it was like a community had been formed. So much so, that there was no embarrassment that you looked puffy eyed and mascara streaked as you trudged down the stairs with a heavy heart afterward.

Les Miserables made me dream the dream and won my heart. This sums up the entire film perfectly.

1 COMMENT

  1. There was a time when actors shined,
    When their voices were aloft,
    And their singing, inviting.
    There was a time when the audience wasn’t deaf (or blind),
    And the screen had songs
    And the way the songs sung, exciting.
    There was a time,
    Then it all went wrong.

    I’ve seen the scene that Anne won by,
    Where she tried
    But life was missing.
    I screamed that Crowe would just die;
    I dreamed that Hugh could be forgiven.
    Then I was bummed, for twenty I paid;
    My dough and time they stole and I wasted.
    There’s no refund I’m afraid,
    For songs ill-sung by names profitably pasted.

    “But the actors sing it live!”
    The media voices yelled with thunder,
    As publicists play their part,
    As they turn their screams to shame.

    DVD’s coming this summer for fans to buy,
    To fill their days with anxious wonder:
    “Is this really better than live?”
    But his cash was gone when autumn came.

    And still I dream plays on screen are good to see,
    That stage and film can mesh together.
    But there are dreams that cannot be,
    Good actors don’t mean the singing’s better.

    And singing is a musical’s reason to be,
    So different from that hell that I was watching.
    No different now from what it seemed,
    This flick has killed me with the scenes I’d seen.

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