Les Miserables – The Musical Experience of a Lifetime?

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There has been much anticipation surrounding the release of Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s stage show, Les Miserables. The film has been nominated for 4 BAFTAs and 7 Oscars, gaining critical accolades yet there has still been much scepticism from ardent fans of the stage show.

Fans of the stage musical will be pleased to hear that the general plot and songs are in keeping with the stage show version. The only possible downside is that the producers have decided to focus on the vocals rather than the orchestration meaning that the orchestration sometimes gets lost in the background and has none of the power that it should.

Hugh Jackman’s performance as Jean Val Jean is incredible and he is thoroughly deserving of his Oscar nomination, up until the moment when he murders Jean Val Jean’s key solo, ‘Bring Him Home’. His acting is impeccable throughout and he is especially captivating as the convict at the beginning.

The casting of Russell Crowe as Javert has been widely described as a mistake. His toneless and flat renditions of key solos ‘Stars’ and ‘Javert’s Suicide’ should be key, heart wrenching moments of the film and instead were awkward to watch. Not only is his singing not up to scratch, his acting is incredibly wooden and he has none of the screen presence or intuitive facial expression of Jackman.

The film is just losing all hope and direction with Javert and Jean Val Jean when it jumps forward to 1832 and the French revolution. At this point we see the young revolutionaries planning their attack headed by Marius and Enjolras. The scenes with these characters redeem the film. Eddie Redmayne as Marius is incredible, his delivery of ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ is beautiful and tear-jerking. The majority of the actors who play the students come from theatrical backgrounds and this can clearly be seen through their performances. Aaron Tveit is impressive as Enjolras, his broadway background can clearly be seen through his vocals and he is strong on screen presence. These two combined with Samantha Barks as Eponine and 12 year – old Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche make the barricade scenes the best in the film.

In a heart wrenching, draining tale, the characters of Madame and Master Thenardier provide the only light hearted relief with their song ‘Master of the House’. Memorable performances of this song have been given by Alun Armstrong (at the 10th Anniversary Concert) and Matt Lucas (at the 25th Anniversary Concert). Yet this was one scene where the director and producers did not capture the true Les Miserables spirit. It was not uplifting in anyway, Sascha Baren Cohen paled into insignificance, spending the first half of the song trying to decide which accent he wanted to fake before adding a bit of Borat into the mix and completely ruining it. He was kept aloft only by Helena Bonham Carter who was not strong enough vocally to drag this scene out of the mire. On stage these two characters get the largest applause yet in the film they were not even memorable.

Anne Hathaway may only be onscreen for 15-20 minutes of this 3 hour epic but she gives an incredibly memorable performance and is thoroughly deserving of her BAFTA and Oscar, best supporting actress nominations.

The film is a good adaptation, which would have been better if the producers had focused more on having professional stage performers rather than choosing ‘big name’ actors who could not handle the vocal aspect. I would implore anyone who has not seen the show on the stage to do so as the film does not live up to this.

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