I am an unashamed fan of the musical Les Miserables. I have seen it on the London stage three times! Therefore I liked the film. It is the exact same story with the exact same characters singing the exact same songs (and for those that don’t know, the entire stage show and film is sung – there is no spoken dialogue).
For the uninitiated and sceptical though, maybe the film offers a far cheaper way than the extortionate west end theatre prices of finding out what all the fuss is about. And I do know people who having said they hate musicals, on being dragged to the stage show of Les Miserables turned out to love it. Then again, I know others who turned out to hate it as much as they thought they would!
If you are curious though, this new film version of Les Miserables really should be seen (and heard) on the big screen, because with its huge sets and rousing songs it is big.
But does the film add any value to the stage show? Actually, I think it detracts value.
The film uses CGI technology and the magic of cinema to recreate the look of 19th century France (just ignore it is really Greenwich Naval College) in ways no stage show could or would dream of doing.
But therein lies the problem. The theatre asks the audience to use its imagination to fill in the gaps and pretend it is real. If in a movie the gaps aren’t filled in properly, something seems wrong.
The opening half of this new film version did look gritty, grimy and realistic. But the second half, mostly set on the barricades, looked like the stage set built in a movie studio. In the theatre we accept that we are watching just a handful of the hundreds of revolutionaries fighting the French army. But this is not clear in the film and consequently the handful we are watching, and their stand, look a bit pathetic.
There is the issue of melodrama too. And Les Miserables is very melodramatic. Now again, this is ok on the stage. The theatre lends itself to melodrama. With most of the audience sitting so far back from the stage, the performers almost have to be over the top in their vocal delivery and acting.
The Director of the new Les Miserables movie Tom Hooper has however stuck his camera right in the faces of the actors. They sing straight into the camera. Therefore the melodrama is just too in your face. The lack of subtly in the story, acting and lyrics are just too exposed.
Indeed Anne Hathaway’s dramatic delivery of the tragic I Dreamed a Dream is filmed so close we just see her head and shoulders for the full duration of the song as she cries and wails and looks terribly upset.
As well as exposing the flaws, this style of framing also gets a bit repetitive, though Hathaway does sing and act very well.
The other lead actors are somewhat uneven. All can sing passably, even Russell Crowe, just about. Hugh Jackman’s voice is pretty weak, but he acts the central part of Jean Valjean very well. Eddie Redmayne is all vein bulging intensity. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are everything you’d expect of the pantomime villains. While the younger women, Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and Samantha Barks as Eponine, sing well enough, but have little to do except look sad.
Despite what therefore sounds like a very critical review of the film, I have been humming the songs ever since I saw it. The story is epic and bombastic but with its rags to riches themes set against doomed revolution and personal redemption, in the end, I was moved. But then, I love the stage show, so I was going to like the film.