Les Misèrables is only one of the ground breaking films to hit the cinemas this Christmas. And just in case you’ve been living under a cultural rock for your entire life, Les Misèrables is the book written by the French writer Victor Hugo. A historical piece following the story of the protagonist, convict Jean Valjean leading into the early days of the French Revolution. Valjean is shown incredible grace by a priest from who he stole silverware and as a result Valjean seeks to escape his life as a judged man and to live a new life, trying to make a measure of difference in the world. Valjean’s ‘archenemy’ in this story is found in Javert, an officer of the law whose whole existence is given value by his ability to uphold the law. This book has had countless film adaptations over the years and one extremely popular stage musical, and it is this musical which is been recreated as a motion picture.
I first saw Les Misèrables performed when I was a young teen in high school, and it absolutely rocked my world and birthed my love for musicals, the arts and music in general. So when I heard that they were adapting it for the big screen with the likes of Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried I almost fainted with excitement, and when I heard Anne Hatheway sing ‘I dreamed a dream’ in the first trailer, well fainting was the least of my worries and I knew right there that I was going to need tissues to get through this film.
I mentioned before that this film is ground breaking and this is because of how they did the audio recording with the movie. In any musical film done to date, the actors are ushered into recording studios months before getting on set to record all the songs. Then once on set they simply act out the scene and mime along to the recording. However the director, Tom Hooper, felt this always held a level of falsity and disconnect from the heart of the songs, so instead of following the traditional method, Hooper decided to give the actors hidden ear pieces and got them to sing each song live on set. The idea was to give the actors full control over the direction and impact of the song as they were performing it, and it comes across powerfully in the finished product.
Because of this, the songs are performed differently from the musical versions, and this is actually a very good thing. You see, on stage, actors cannot portray emotion solely through their faces and body movements; they are simply too far away, so everything must be exaggerated and technically perfect in order to convey the message of the music. However, on film the camera allows for the actors to focus on acting the songs rather than performing them. And that is one of the many reasons why this film is so amazing.
Each of the actors are in fine form in this film, Hugh Jackman is in his element playing Valjean and Russell Crowe, who many were unsure of and undoubtedly many will criticize, plays the character of Javert perfectly and offsets Jackman in both singing and acting with a subtly that is wonderful performed for both the development of his own character and that of Valjean. Anne Hatheway, who I have been longing to hear sing again ever since her performance of Queen’s ‘Find me somebody to love’ in Ella Enchanted, is simply amazing in this film and deserves every award that comes her way and all those that don’t. Perhaps the only weak point in this film is Amanda Seyfrieds performance as Cosette, and this may simply be that of the Character herself who isn’t really given much depth in this portrayal of the story, especially when set against the character of Èponine who is given such depth and beauty by actress Samantha Barks. There is also an amazing cameo by Colm Wilkinson, who played Valjean in the London and New York stage performances of Les Misèrables, poetically playing the role as the Priest who gives Valjean his chance at new life. The last worthy mention goes to both Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen who provide the comic relief and it’s done perfectly, one moment I was choking up over the orphaned and neglected child Cosette dreaming of her Castle on the clouds and the next I’m laughing at these two innkeepers as they swindle customers in all sorts of hilarious ways all the while I’m wondering what is going to hit me next on this emotional roller-coaster of a movie.
Les Misèrables will undoubtedly see many well-earned awards heading its way as it really is almost close to a perfect film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t eventually make its way into the curriculum for many institutes to teach not only literature and performance, but also for the portrayal of the historical period which is shown as a heartbreaking reality.
So should you see this film? Yes, everyone should watch this film; it is an extremely powerful story of grace and redemption. And if I hear any men beating their chests with a false bravado claiming that ‘real men’ don’t watch musicals, then do yourselves a favour suck it up and watch this movie, the interplay between Valjean and Javert touches powerfully on the true heart of masculinity and how that looks in the face of despair and hope. The final scenes deliver a powerful challenge from the barricade to the viewer, asking what you will do to see the tomorrow that you want to come, which left me in tears and properly fragile for hours after, this is such as powerful film if you haven’t already seen it then I urge you to head to the cinemas to witness something very very special.