sun 21/07/2024

Les Misérables | reviews, news & interviews

Les Misérables

Les Misérables

Director Tom Hooper's take on the monumental musical shocks with the unexpected

More glum than glee: Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman in 'Les Miserables'

Les Misérables is revolutionary, but not in a French way. Oscar-winning director Tom (The King's Speech) Hooper’s film of a musical seen by over 60 million people in over 40 countries and in half again as many languages has engaged so much critical ink I’m almost dreading writing my own opinion.

However, as a property that has run onstage for 27 years, Les Misérables - once nicknamed The Glums - is a stirring tale of love, loss, cruelty, salvation and predation that also comes with a built-in audience of which you may or may not be a member.

Whatever you think about musicals (I hate myself for liking West Side Story), the film Les Misérables is going to come as a bit of a shock - a very palpable 159-minute running time shock of actors singing directly to camera. There is no lip-syncing here, apparently, it's all real, just like if you were in Paris just after the Revolution - I mean, the 19th century. Claude-Michel Schönberg's music resembles a modern opera with actors rather than singers, although Hugh Jackman, playing Valjean, has a serious musical theatre pedigree and is eminently capable of carrying a tune.

Should Russell Crowe have gone on the same diet as Jackman and Hathaway?

As one jokey fan put it, the plot is simple. Wolverine is on the run from Gladiator when Wolverine runs into Catwoman and attempts to save her. That’s roughly the storyline, with a bit more cruelty, weepiness and dirt thrown in (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are such good actors that they seem to have their own film going inside Les Mis: theirs is a comedy.)

Russell Crowe (pictured below) stars as evil Javert, the policeman who hounds Valjean after he breaks his parole. Shown grace via the Bishop of Digne (Colm Wilkinson who played Valjean for years onstage in London and New York), Valjean becomes a model citizen. He finds Fantine (Anne Hathaway) starving and dying, after she was thrown out of his factory for having a child to support. Flash forward to Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit who all acquit themselves well, in both singing and acting. Special mention is due to Samantha Barks, who, after appearing in the stage version, kept auditioning for the role of Eponine before winning it (although how she sings with that tiny waist is beyond me. I’m sure some internal organs were removed.)

But should you see Les Misérables? Ask yourself these questions: did I like the book and/or the musical? Can I sit for almost three hours without eating? Can I stop thinking that Russell Crowe should have gone on the same diet as Jackman and Hathaway?

Seriously, Les Misérables is revolutionary in that it shocks us with the unexpected. It is unexpectedly involving and dazzling in design, and unexpectedly moving with Fantine’s sad solo "I Dreamed a Dream" (you will cry, oh, you will - SuBo, move over for AnHa). If you treat Les Misérables as theatre sung into cinematic life, you may understand what Hooper was trying to achieve. Did he succeed? Really, with something as different and startling as this, only time will tell. Reviewers didn’t think much of Lawrence of Arabia at first either.

Watch the trailer for Les Misérables

If you treat it as theatre sung into cinematic life, you'll understand what Hooper was trying to achieve


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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You're wrong about Lawrence of Arabia.

No, I am not. Google this to its source: "It is, in the last analysis, just a huge, thundering camel-opera that tends to run down rather badly as it rolls on into its third hour and gets involved with sullen disillusion and political deceit."

NEVER hate yourself for loving a great musical, Karen - and West Side Story is certainly that. The problem which really holds me back seeing this film, which I'd love to for all the reasons you state, is the score (and now I'm the one who's going to seem snobbish). Caught a minute or two on the World Service of Crowe bawling on two notes to ill-fitting words and Jackman wobbling back (he used to be a great star of the musicals - anyone remember him in the National Oklahoma?). The incredibly basic vocal writing and the agonising mis-stressing of the text to me are Boublil and Schonberg all over. Now, Sweeney Tood on film was an unexpected triumph, So can we have a film of Sondheim's Into the Woods, the script of which was read through by the likes of Cher, Goldie Hawn, Robin Williams, Steve Martin and Elijah Wood?

I echo the above - why hate yourself for liking West Side Story? It's brilliant. This, on the other hand...I generally love musicals but have never been able to get into either any Andrew Lloyd Weber shows or Les Miz. Too much bombast, perhaps. Then again, my favorite lyric from any musical is this line from Gypsy: "I used to be a schlepper/Now I'm Miss Mazeppa". You see how low-brow my taste is.

Thumbs up to that: Gypsy is another of those all-through-wonderful shows. Forget 'high-brow' and 'low-brow'; as I seem to remember Sondheim echoes, there's only good music and bad music. Fear I place B&S and Lloyd Webber mostly - though not entirely - in the latter category. And our theatre man Matt Wolf reports that Imelda Staunton may be playing Gypsy's showbiz ma from hell later this year.

What is it about Les Miserables? The lyrics are banal and only uses the vocabulary of a seven year old and the music covers the musical range of a nursery rhyme. Sadly the film brings these deficiences into even sharper relief. The novelty of the actors singing live backfires as sadly Hugh Jackman is at times truly painful to listen to and regularly flat, especially in 'Bring him home'. All too often the songs brought the action to a standstill; bad enough in the theatre, fatal in the cinema. There were times when I truly started to lose the will. This film was three hours of torture that I can never have again.

I had to leave half way through as I could not sit through any more banal lyrics and repetitive and boring music. Had the composer not heard any Bernstein, Sondheim or even Rogers and H ? Please stop Crowe from singing!

I snored a snore.

Quite brilliant - and succinct

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