Film Review – Les Miserables: Do you hear the people sing? Sob, more like.

I can only thank those involved in the creative decision to use a continuous soundtrack in this film – otherwise, my unbridled weeping might have been heard by more than just those in the immediate vicinity. Undeniably Les Miserables, translated as ‘The Miserable Ones’, is pretty much what it says on the tin; feeling like I’d been hit by a grief-train several times over, I did get through a few tissues. But I feel the key point with Les Mis is that it wasn’t miserable for misery’s sake – within half an hour, the depth and three-dimensionality to each character had already forged iron-strongholds on my heart and this is why, if you don’t mind your heart being ripped out and trodden on, you should go see Les Mis.

The film follows the plight of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a convict turned saint, Javert (Russell Crowe) the French version of a Dalek, obsessed with bringing him in and Fantine (Anne Hathaway) a mother forced into prostitution to look after her daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). Spanning from 1815, the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, to the failed July Revolution of 1832, we see Cosette grow up under Jean Valjean’s care and fall in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a revolutionary along with Enjourlas  (Aaron Tveit) and Eponine (Samantha Barks); as convoluted as this sounds, the film deals with the interweaving storylines seamlessly, guiding the viewer through this turbulent period of French history. On which point, if anyone says the film is set in ‘that French Revolution’ I thoroughly recommend throwing a history textbook at them.

jean valjeanSo: it’s a musical. “Of course”, you might say, “Duh”. But by musical, I don’t just mean a film with flimsily interspersed songs here and there. I mean a full-on, unequivocally epic, mother of all musicals where you can count the amount of actually spoken words on two hands. Even as a lover of musicals, I found it odd at first, particularly as the first scene involved Russell Crowe trying to intimidate Hugh Jackman by singing in his face. Not his usual method (think:Robin Hood, Gladiator etc.etc.). However, the whole magnitude and beauty of the film and its music completely eradicates this foreignness, and all is soon forgotten. The original score by Bublil and Schonberg, which is superbly emotional, flowed seamlessly and almost acted as a vehicle for the audience to be transported between the character’s interweaving storylines.

However, this film would fall flat if its cast couldn’t sing. And boy, can they sing (yes, even Russell Crowe, just about). The beauty of the live recording system, where the actors sang as they acted instead of miming to a pre-recording, meant the emotion of each syllable and the flexibility with the pace, heightened the realism to a whole other dimension. This is more true than ever with ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ where all I can say is 6 words: Anne Hathaway, Anne Hathaway, Anne Hathaway. From the moment she appeared, Fantine’s delicate fragility but resolute maternal love for Cosette, shone through and if you think you’ve heard ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ and understand the lyrics because of SuBo then I ask strongly suggest you watch Anne’s performance. Though the tune and lyrics remain the same, the utter rawness of her rendition is like having your eyes opened to a depth of emotion you rarely see from the everyday actor. With my Anne Hathaway gushing out of the way, I must say the cast overall, were fantastic. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role of Jean Valjean, whilst the deep vocals of the revolutionaries, Marius, Enjourlas (who, I think could’ve done with an extra song) and co, conveyed their passion for political change.

fantine

I have to make a special mention to Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the owners of the inn, because without them, I fear I would’ve have probably left the cinema clinically depressed. ‘Master of the House’ together with pretty much any scene they were in, lightened the atmosphere perfectly and added a few much needed laughs.

All in all, this film has become my favourite musical (together with West Side Story, of course) and possibly even one of my favourite films all together. A skilled balance of perfect music, gorgeous cinematography and costumes, its tragedy with a touch of humour and the vocal talent which carried it all off, make Les Mis a must-see.

Just remember your tissues.

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2 thoughts on “Film Review – Les Miserables: Do you hear the people sing? Sob, more like.

  1. Lovely Review. I have to disagree on one thing. Russell Crowe couldn’t sing! He tried though, so I’ll give him credit for that. On the other hand, he is getting paid millions, so he has no choice but to try. He could sing to some extent, but he was one (possibly the only) of the weakest singers of the actor bunch.

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