Ever since my grade 10 band played selections from Les Miserables the musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg and based on the novel by Victor Hugo, I have loved that musical. I remember my band teacher, Mr. Hobson, playing us the Broadway cast and falling in love with the music even more. I eventually went out and bought the Original Broadway and London Cast recordings and they are part of my iTunes rotation on my iPhone.
Eventually, on a trip to London in 1995, I finally got to see Les Miserables on stage in the West End and seeing it on stage with its massive sets made me fall further in love.
So when I found out that The King’s Speech director, Tom Hooper’s next film was going to be of Les Miserables I was excited and skeptical. I was skeptical because of the failure of the other big musical contemporary Phantom of the Opera and also who would play all the critical parts.
When I heard that Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe were cast, I thought it would be Hugh Jackman as Javert and Crowe as Jean Valjean but it was the other way around. I thought that Jackman was all wrong for Valjean and that Crowe made for a more convincing convict but as soon as I saw the trailers and heard some of the soundtrack that the casting was correct. But more on that later.
Les Miserables opens in 1812 and tells the story of Jean Valjean aka prisoner 24601 who is released on parole after serving 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread to save his sister’s son from starving. 19 years may sound a little steep but Valjean also tried to escape while incarcerated which is why he served that long. When he is released, Inspector Javert said that he will keep an eye on him.
After being released, Valjean eventually finds shelter at a Bishop’s house (played by the original Valjean Colm Wilkinson). Valjean steals the Bishop’s silver but he gets caught but the Bishop tells the police officers that he gave Valjean the silver. The Bishop tells Valjean to use the silver to start a new and honest life.
To which we flash forward 8 years and find Valjean is Mr. Madeline, a factory owner and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. The tragic Fantine (Anne Hathaway) works in this factory but is fired because she has an out of wedlock child who is staying with an inn keeper and his wife (Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) and gives all the money that she can to care for her. In despair, Fantine sells her hair and becomes a prostitute and sings her most famous song “I Dreamed a Dream.” This is where the tears starts to fall. Hathaway just kills that song and the decision to sing the songs live while filming is made clear that it was the right choice with Hathway’s performance. She is so raw and emotional in this scene that it is hard to replicate if you had recorded the song 3 months before filming.
Valjean comes across Fantine and sees that she is dying and vows to Fantine that he will take care of her daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen).
Javert is also in Montreuil-sur-Mer and discovers that the mayor is also Valjean the convict that has skipped parole and who he has also been chasing. Eventually Valjean escapes with Cosette and we flash forward another 9 years.
Cosette (now played by Amanda Seyfried) and Marius (Eddie Redmayne) have fallen at first sight while Eponine (Samantha Barks), the daughter of the Thenardiers’ (the inn keeper and his wife that were taking care of young Cosette) looks on crestfallen and she is unrequited love with Marius.
Marius is part of a band of students involved in a revolution that includes Enjorlas (Aaron Tveit -so good), Eponine and Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone -adorable and great). The rest of the movie has to do with the revolution and a final confrontation between Valjean and Javert and Marius and Cosette getting married.
The final moments of Les Miserables had me in tears and Valjean lays dying and Fantine comes to take him off to heaven and the final scene of all those that died in the movie sing “Do You Hear The People Sing?” and the camera sweeps up and over the barricades in Paris. I was crying like crazy.
I loved everything about Les Miserables starting with Hugh Jackman as Valjean. He was a amazing and a great singer. And Anne Hathway blew me away as Fantine. As mentioned her “I Dreamed a Dream” was just incredible and so raw.
Everyone was great and Russell Crowe wasn’t that bad. Yes, he was the weakest vocally and he did kind of butcher my favourite Javert song “Stars” but I thought he was fine.
A surprise was Eddie Redmayne. I didn’t know he could sing so well and his “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was superb. We all know that Amanda Seyfried can sing from Mamma Mia but she adds some fragility to the few songs that Cosette gets to sing. But it is Isabelle Allen as young Cosette who really shines in “Castle on a Cloud.” Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carted added great comic relief in an other bleak musical and “Master of the House” always reminds of grade 10 band as that was the number that showcased my instrument (the baritone) pretty well.
I loved Samantha Barks as Eponine. She was great showcasing her unrequited love for Marius in “On My Own.” I am so glad she played Eponine instead of the rumoured Taylor Swift, who would have been all wrong for the part as she doesn’t have that street smart looks to her. But Barks does and she has played Eponine on the West End and in the 25th Anniversary concert for Les Miserables.
Everything about Les Miserables was just great from the cinematography to the costumes to even the battle scenes.
I do hope that this film does change the way movie musicals are filmed because singing live on set gives you so much more room to work with performance wise.
And one final thing Les Miserables was anything but miserable.