I have a friend who absolutely detests musicals. All musicals, seriously. Even Happy Feet. She refuses to watch Mary Poppins, most Disney films, even Oliver! So I’m pretty certain Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables isn’t on her Must Watch list. I, on the other hand, have a bit of a soft spot for a good musical. Even when it’s a stage original which has been redone for the big screen. Mama Mia? Loved it. There, I said it. Even the part where 007 sings.
Possibly one of my favourite big screen adaptations of a literary and stage classic was Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. So I wasn’t at all surprised to see some cross over in actors between it and Les Miserable.
Stepping into the despicable roles of Mr and Madame Thénardier are Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. The latter plays a role not unlike her Mrs Lovett from Sweeney Todd. Their scenes are rowdy, bawdy, drunken and fun – I wouldn’t have expected anything less.
Who really impressed (and even surprised) me was the lovely and easily type cast Anne Hathaway playing the tragic Fantine. Her performance was honest, moving and so utterly believable, I suspect she’s finally left the princess stereotype behind her.
Not surprising was Hugh Jackman as the hero Jean Valjean. He acts, he sings, he’s pretty damn gorgeous… is there anything this man can’t do? He brings the character to life with such passion, from a broken imprisoned man, to benevolent benefactor.
Russel Crowe does a decent turn as the villain Javert. Although villain may be too harsh a term. After all, he’s just a man trying to do his job. Although he really does take things a tad far. You’d think after a year or two he’d let go of his pride and move on. His singing took a little longer to get used to than the others. But once your mind snaps over to musical mode it feels almost natural when the camera zooms in for a close-up and the character breaks into song rather than tortured monologue.
Amanda Seyfried makes for a pretty Cosette, and I was overjoyed to see Samantha Barks as Éponine. I watched her make her way up to third place in the reality show I’d Do Anything, in which Andrew Lloyd Webber scoured the UK for a new Nancy and Oliver for Cameron Mackintosh’s West End production. She plays Éponine beautifully and I’m looking forward to seeing her in more big name productions.
Les Miserables is a tale of second chances and redemption. Granted parole in 1815 by prison guard Javert, ex-prisoner Jean Valjean finds himself with the opportunity to rebuild his life. When he breaks parole to do so, however, Javert vows to bring him to book and see him imprisoned once again. Over the next eight years, Valjean works his way up society until he is the mayor of a small French town. Fantine works at the factory he runs, sending money to her poorly daughter who is in the care of the abusive Thénardiers.
It is only when she loses her job and turns to prostitution that Valjean notices her. He rescues her after Javert arrests her for injuring a vicious potential client. Taking her to a hospital, Valjean swears to find her daughter and take care of her.
Almost a decade later tensions are running high in Paris and the poor are rallying to stand up for their rights. Valjean and the grown Cosette find themselves at the centre of the looming revolution.
It’s always fascinating to see a stage show adapted for the big screen. It allows for far more detail when it comes to location and props, as well as building on the emotion with close-ups. But there’s still something magical about sitting in a theatre with the actors mere metres from you, performing live, especially for you. This one is definitely still on my theatre To Watch list next time I find myself bumbling around London.