Do You Hear The People Sing? Yes, and I’d like some of them to stop- Les Miserables
Anyone who knows me personally knows that I really like Les Miserables. I know the whole show pretty much back to front having listened to the soundtrack more times than is probably necessary. And so when I discovered a couple of years back that they would be making a new film version of the musical I nearly cried. All the hype that had been whipped up around it made me almost want to burst with excitement, the trailers looked amazing and I couldn’t wait. So why did I leave the cinema last night not a quivering mess and begging to go back in and watch it all again, but feeling somewhat deflated and a little bit disappointed. Now you mustn’t get me wrong, this is by no means a bad film nor did I actually dislike it, I just think it demonstrates the reasons why hype is not a good thing. The film we got was not the film I wanted it to be which I do think is a real shame.
I think I have to begin with Hugh Jackman. Now I like Hugh Jackman as much as the next girl but Les Miserables had brought to my attention something somewhat alarming. I don’t think Hugh Jackman can sing. Something which is pretty important if you are playing Jean Valjean. Well, technically he is very competent but I just don’t think his voice suited the role of Jean Valjean. This is probably because I am used to hearing Colm Wilkinson, the almighty, sing the role and so poor old Hugh had a lot to live up to. His acting performance was actually very good and he must be applauded for that, especially during his soliloquy at the beginning. He was heart wrenching and we really got the sense of a man in absolute torment and anguish. His vocal performance was at its strongest here as well. However, Hugh cannot be forgiven for one thing and one thing only. He has murdered Who Am I? which will always be my favourite song. Further to this, there was such a massive opportunity for Hugh to rip his shirt off in a moment of passion and they completely missed it! Seriously guys, give your audience what they want!
One of the absolute stand outs, given her very short amount of screen time, was Anne Hathaway. Having not been sure immediately after the film, I had a think and decided vocally she was the best. Her I Dreamed A Dream was unlike anything I had heard before. It was a visceral performance, all close ups of snot and tears (nice I know…) and her lovely face scrunched with the raw agony of the situation she had the terrible fortune to find herself. (I’m listening to it as I write this and I’m getting a bit misty eyed!) I also find it hard to imagine that there was very much acting involved in the scene in which they cut off her gorgeous locks, given that it was happening for real. I think she is very deserving of the nominations she has been given.
I feel that Eddie Redmayne must be brought up round about now. I had previously always thought Marius was a little bit rubbish and generally a bit of a drip. I mean he was going to bail on his revolution just because of some girl, that is so uncool. But Eddie Redmayne managed to make Marius completely unrubbish, a feat which I didn’t think could be achieved. He also has a really lovely singing voice, something which I wasn’t exactly expecting. He and Amanda Seyfried had very sweet chemistry on screen, particularly during A Heart Full of Love, a scene which was just visually exquisite. The real kicker was Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. There was a performance on par with Anne Hathaway for sheer emotional scale. We were given the real sense of Marius’ survivor’s guilt and his desperate sadness at the waste of life that had taken place. One line in particular ‘My friends, don’t ask me’ was sung with such pain that it almost became too sad to watch and, had we we been in the theatre, his performance would certainly have gained the largest round of applause. It also helps that Eddie is rather easy on the eyes and there is a rather wonderful section in which he is flung over Jean Valjean’s shoulder and we are treated to a great many lingering close ups of his peachy bum. But that is a detail for the shallow amongst us! One thing that did annoy me was how on Earth Marius survived that sewer without contracting a very nasty infection. HE HAD OPEN WOUNDS, WHY DID HE NOT GET GANGRENE?! But I only thought this because I am a pedant.
Talking of easy on the eye, much must be said for Les Amis, who I have now just dubbed the Sexy Revolutionaries. Aaron Tveit as Enjolras was the sexiest of the bunch, all beautiful curly hair and filled with the passion of a true revolutionary. In fact so powerful was he and the rest of them that it took all of my willpower not to stand up in the cinema, shout VIVE LA FRANCE, VIVE LA REPUBLIQUE and join in with Do You Hear The People Sing? Seriously, they were that good. Also young Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche was a treat, he was such a scene stealer and his death scene was probably one of the most emotional. It was also a pleasure to hear tiny bits of Little People, a song that is one of my favourites but I believe has been cut from the actual show. It had been the time I went to see it in London anyway!
Having said all that, the direction of this film is wonderful. Visually it is completely stunning and epic, in particular the beautiful churches of the convent and at Digne. As I mentioned before, one of the most visually stunning sequences is A Heart Full of Love. They had created a beautiful butterfly garden which gave everything a lovely, ethereal quality, like you had just stepped into a fairytale. It was very sweet and beautifully framed the touching love story going on. Tom Hooper must be applauded for one tiny little detail that made a Les Mis fan such as myself very happy. At the moment of Enjolras’ death, he fell from the window and landed in exactly the same position as he would have done had this been the stage barricade. I had to try very hard not to wave at my friend at the other end of the row and squeal ITS LIKE THE MUSICAL! It’s details like this that show the care and attention that went into this film.
I am aware that this is getting very long now so I will wrap up. My main problem with the film was that it never seemed to sparkle like the stage show does. I think part of this comes from the way in which the vocal performances were actually recorded. I know that they were going for the more natural approach and in terms of getting the emotion in performances this worked incredibly well. However, this is a world in which people will just sing for no good reason in the middle of a sentence, naturalism isn’t really required here! The quality of the sound seemed to be much quieter and muted. I’m not sure whether that was the cinema we were in or whether it was like that for everyone but it simply wasn’t loud enough. A trivial thing but one which is very important in establishing the epic tone needed for a film like this. What it did make me realise is just how good the stage show is and that I should probably just go and watch that again. Which is a real shame but sometimes, some things are best left in the medium they were intended for.