Les Miserables

les misReleased: 2013
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway

An absolute emotional triumph

Some people have books, films, paintings or pieces of great classical music that are part of their soul. Works of art that have a special place in their heart that can’t be explained but ‘belong’ to them and always will. For me that place in my consciousness is occupied by the musical Les Misérables.  I’m not obsessive, I’ve not been to see it thousands of times nor do I play it on a loop constantly. It just has a special meaning to me that I can’t quite put into words.

When I heard that a film version was being made I was torn between excitement and panic. What if they messed it up? What if it was an absolute travesty?  The first reviews came out and they were fantastic. Despite the rave reviews and the multiple award nominations I was still very nervous when I finally sat down to see what director Tom Hooper had done with my most beloved of musicals.

Tony award winner Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean, the runaway convict trying to build a new life after 19 years on the chain gang. He adopts Cosette, the daughter of tragic prostitute Fantine but their peaceful existence is endangered by the combined threats of student Marius falling in love with Cosette, looming revolution and dogged Inspector Javert who is determined to put Valjean back behind bars.

There are a couple of false moments but the vast majority of this 157 minute film is pure triumphant masterpiece. Les Miserables is visually stunning with magnificent sets, wild landscapes and a wonderful barricade building scene which really does capture the spirit of the stage production beautifully. The orchestration by Anne Dudley and Stephen Metcalfe is soaring and from the first moment my heart jumped with sheer pleasure. This is how music on the big screen should sound.

What surprised me though was that the spirit of this adaptation owes almost as much to the original Victor Hugo novel as it does to the Claude-Michel Schonberg/Alain Boublil musical. We actually meet (albeit briefly) Marius’s grandfather in the film and Valjean’s dual epiphanies of finding God and learning to love another person are referred to quite clearly – especially with the inclusion of an original song where Valjean expresses his new found devotion to young Cosette.

The performances were almost perfect. Almost, I have a problem with a couple of them. I didn’t like Hugh Jackman’s performance of Bring Him Home – one song, not even my favourite in the show even though it’s Valjean’s big emotional number. And whoever told Russell Crowe he could sing was having a laugh. In the lower ranges he’s fine, but for the big notes in Stars he just can’t make it. In fact he isn’t very good at all at Stars, one of the best songs of the entire show. He does act the part very well indeed and the scene looks absolutely beautiful.  It’s almost as if Hooper accepted his actor’s limitations and worked around them to deliver a great scene nonetheless.

The rest of the performances were brilliant. Anne Hathaway is undoubtedly the greatest Fantine I’ve ever seen and I’ll be stunned if she doesn’t walk away with an Oscar. I’ve never been so moved by I Dreamed A Dream as I was here. Hathaway gives the performance of the film, closely followed by an understated but no less moving Samantha Barks as Eponine. Eddie Redmayne is great as Marius and I was delighted that Aaron Tveit turned in such a fine performance as revolutionary leader Enjolras. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter do well as the villainous Thénardiers, providing welcome comic relief without descending into pantomime, always a danger for these characters.   Little Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche was wonderful – full of the cheeky personality that the character requires.

Much has been made of the fact that Tom Hooper insisted that songs be performed live on set rather than recorded in a studio, this works brilliantly and allows the actors to really perform their roles and make them believable.  Hooper and Eddie Redmayne joined us for the screening and I was fascinated to hear them discuss other aspects of the film-making process, including Redmayne’s desire to play Gavroche.  Baby-faced he may be, but not quite that baby-faced.

The director told us that camera and prop crews were dressed in period costume and mingled with the actors. He gave the instruction to “build the barricade”,  no other instructions were given and at one point a piano came flying out of a window so the confusion and panic seen on Redmayne’s face is genuine!  Hooper wanted the barricade building scene to be as chaotic as possible and this seemed like the best way to do it.  It certainly worked!

I was thoroughly moved by Les Miserables, I wept a good five or six times throughout the film. These weren’t gentle, ladylike little tears, these were big wracking sobs shaking the seats. I know many people are eagerly anticipating its UK release next Friday (11 January)  and I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.  I loved it and it joins its stage brother in my heart.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.


  1. Wow, seems to be an impressive movie. I wasn’t planning on seeing it because of all the singing. How much of it is there? (btw, is there a way to subscribe to comments?)

    • The film’s about 95% singing but the acting is excellent. Maybe not great if you aren’t massively into musicals but the acting is magnificent – even if you aren’t that keen on the singing.

      You can subscribe to the comments on the home page on the top right – there’s RSS for both posts and comments. Thanks for dropping in.

  2. Wow, I love your convictions here Louise, I could tell you are very passionate about this film. I’ve read both very negative and very positive reviews of these so I’m even more curious. Poor Russell, sounds like his voice just wasn’t suited for this role. I think I’ll be packing tons of tissues when I go to this, I’m a crier and I sob even just watching the trailer!

    • I cried tonight telling my husband about the final scene. Five days on from seeing the film…. I’m very torn about Russell Crowe. His voice wasn’t suited at all to the role but his acting was and there’s one scene which had me almost sobbing like a child. If you are a crier then this one will really get you – take lots of tissues.

  3. Louise, I reckon you’re more or less spot on!! We loved ” I dreamed a dream ” also. What an amazing piece of theatre, I use that word because the song was delivered in such an intimate and truthful way, lush.
    My only REAL big problem was Javert !! I cannot understand why the director would have chosen Russell Crowe when he had the whole world to choose from. I understand your comment about his acting (in places) but all in all his performance was a weak link for me.
    Overall though, Fab and will probably go again xxx

    • I really like Russell Crowe as an actor and loved the “medal” moment so can forgive him a lot for that. I’m already waiting for the DVD release date, I can see me watching this at least once a month…

  4. I saw Les Mis last night and was really disappointed. It was mediocre and I’m not surprised that Hooper didn’t get a Best Director nomination. I think what was disappointing is that some of the acting was terrific, but their singing was awful; but those who could sing couldn’t really act.

    First and foremost, Les Mis is a musical. It has a number of songs linked by sung dialogue – there are only a couple of spoken lines in the whole film. Given it is a musical then why cast actors who can’t sing? I like Hugh Jackman, but he isn’t a good singer. At best he would have gotten the Valjean part in a decent Am Dram production. As for Russell Crowe, again a good actor who just can’t sing. Given that Javert has one of the biggest numbers in the whole show why cast someone who clearly isn’t up to it? Rather than looking forward to the big numbers it was more a matter of sitting waiting to see how bad they were, and then being pleasantly surprised when some of them weren’t too bad – this is not what you want from a musical. Yet Jackman and Crowe’s acting performances were really good. Compare that to the boys who man the barricades. They could sing, but they acted like theatrical lovies.

    I thought there was more balance in the main supporting cast. I really liked Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried and Samantha Barks. Hathaway clearly isn’t a great singer either, but she put so much emotion into I Dreamed a Dream that it really worked. However, I thought Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were awful – which I was really disappointed about because I really like her. She basically just tried to recreate Mrs Lovett from Sweeney Todd. Master of the House is supposed to be light relief from the emotions that we’re going through with Fontine’s death – but it was dreadful. Cohen’s attempt at a French accent came out as a strangled Italian twang. He’s no Alun Armstrong.

    Then there was the directing. Each of the big emotional numbers were shot with extreme close ups of the actors. From Valjean’s Soliloquy, to I Dreamed a Dream, to Stars, and Empty Chairs at Empty Tables each was shot almost like it was a distinct music video. And as a result of these great close ups we see lots of snot from lots of actors. If it was done once in I Dreamed a Dream it would have been very effective. But it lost its impact as it was done again and again. It was slightly modified for Stars as the camera did several orbits of Russell Crowe, possibly in an attempt to distract the audience from Crowe’s massacre of the song. And as I’ve been thinking about the film since, Anne Hathaway, with her hair clipped, pale, and singing emotionally to the camera, with a dark background kind of reminds me of the video to Sinead O’Conner’s Nothing Compares.

    And the final scene was awful. I haven’t seen the stage show, so I don’t know if it’s the same, but Valjean dying and then going to the Big Barricade In The Sky was just so twee.

    I really wanted to like this. I would have gone to see it whoever was in it, but I would have preferred that they had cast actors that I hadn’t heard of who could both sing and act. Really disappointed and because I feel this way the most I think about it the more holes I find to pick.

    • Stop picking holes… although I agree with a couple of things that you say, especially about the distraction technique during Stars.

      The “big barricade in the sky” (which you should definitely copyright) is an adaptation of the final scene of the stage show and for me it worked really really well. It’s one of the scenes that moves me to tears just thinking about it.

      Ach. Since Helena Bonham-Carter took the corsets off she plays the role in every film she’s in. I didn’t really expect anything different. I was just pleased they didn’t over-pantomime the Thernadiers and that they did manage to give them a bit of a rough edge. They are comic relief, but the characters are pretty evil so should be portrayed as such.

      It’s really interesting though that Hugh Jackman’s coming in for a lot of criticism for his lack of singing technique – he’s a Tony Award winning Broadway star who started out in musicals. He absolutely has the pedigree for this job. Maybe his voice just isn’t right for Valjean.

Speak Your Mind