It’s been four days since I left the cinema after seeing Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables at the IMAX cinema in Liverpool. I am very fortunate to have watched the theatre production in London’s West End only three months prior. The storyline was very fresh in my mind and I was excited to see how the film differed and compared to the experience of seeing it on stage. I left the screen feeling completely exhilarated. I had wept, laughed and stopped myself from singing along throughout the screening. I released an instant review of the film as soon as I got home from the cinema. (Click here to watch this review now). Although I thought it was important to express my first thoughts about the film I also thought it was a good idea to wait a few days before writing up a full review. I wanted to let my initial excitement calm down before looking back over the film in my mind and deciding how I truly felt about it.
One thing is for sure, my excitement has not calmed, at all. I feel as enthusiastic and enthralled by the film as I did when I left the cinema. I can’t help but smile and sigh as I tell people to go and see it. I have spent the last four days telling people to not discard Les Misérables because it’s a musical. A film with this much raw emotion and expression is sure to surprise many ‘musical’ cynics. One element of the film that has been highly criticised is how intense and emotionally draining the film is. Some people have found that they were exhausted from the experience due to the plot being so constantly emotional. Well, I’m sorry but it’s Les Misérables. It was always going to be. I don’t understand what people were expecting. I don’t remember ever talking to someone about Spielberg’sSchindler’s List and hearing them say “Well, it was a bit too depressing for me, and Liam Neeson didn’t smile much.”
The question was always “what can the film achieve and add to the story that the theatre can not?” The answer is, the hideousness. The poverty and suffering of the characters is visible from the opening moments. Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman’s dramatic physical changes are an example of this. There is nothing pretty about the first ninety minutes of this film. Les Misérables displays such ugliness and despair that I couldn’t help but connect to the characters in a way that the stage version didn’t let me. When interviewed about her performance Anne Hathaway has stated that singing and acting in a pretty way would have been selfish. We can only assume that Tom Hooper and the rest of the cast shared this theory. The film is impressively grotesque. As for Anne Hathaway, she is simply perfect. Occasionally I find myself watching a new release and realising that I am watching cinematic history. Hathaway’s performance of I Dreamed a Dream was so real and raw that she completely stole the attention away from everyone else. Eddie Redmayne’s performance of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables was close to matching her but even an hour on into the film I could still hear her voice echoing around my head.
By seeing character’s faces at such a close range we were able to understand their grief in a much clearer way. Jackman was consistently brilliant throughout the movie. Crowe’s singing has been highly criticised but I wasn’t too bothered by it. I thought he was fine; not great, but fine. Besides, his on-screen presence was so powerful that I found myself lost in the character of Javert despite his questionable vocals. Samantha Barks was flawless and has made a wonderful transition from stage to screen. The selfishness and disillusion of Eponine was expressed really well and her sorrow was almost pouring out of the screen. Amanda Seyfried was surprisingly good. Her voice was a little shrill for my taste but her acting made up for this. The only truly disappointing casting was that of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen in their roles as the Thénardiers. They were far too cartoon-like and the humour, within the lyrics that they sang, was lost due to lazy expression and delivery. I didn’t feel their malice or their hatred towards Cosette and I didn’t find much comic relief within their performances. All I’m saying is it should have been Kathy Burke and Geoffrey Rush, think about it.
I sensed a great respect for the theatre production whilst watching the film. It was delightful to see Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean, in the role of the priest. The songs and scenes were often stretched to explain the plot more clearly. However, at no point did I feel that the film was dragging. At times it felt like I’d been sat in the cinema for five hours, in a really good way; it was a very bizarre sensation. I still believe, as I stated in my instant review, that this film will be a classic. I can picture my children watching this film over and over in the way that I watched Reed’s Oliver!, Lang’s The King and I and Wise’s The Sound of Music and West Side Story. As a wise friend pointed out recently, it looks as though it is going to be very fashionable to criticise Hooper’s adaptation. I am standing my ground. I heard the people sing. The singing was live and the singing was astounding. I’ll be off to see it again very soon, I’ll wait a while though, maybe one day more.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.