I’ve been dreaming of a film version of the musical Les Miserables for 20 years, and I am excited that my dream is finally a reality. However, now, the debate of Les Miserables (the film) vs. Les Miserables (the musical) is also a reality. I could include the book in my discussion as well, but I’ll only reference it as needed to avoid a never-ending post.
I was impressed by the film’s ability to present the story in a way that a musical never could. Film, as a medium, is able to convey the scenery and misery in a more honest way than a live musical can. Scenes that were particularly well presented include “At the End of the Day” at the factory, “Lovely Ladies” by the docks, and “Do You Hear the People Sing” where the barricade rises spontaneously on the streets of Paris.
Another aspect of the film that I enjoyed was the casting (for the most part). Many of the smaller and ensemble roles were filled by previous West End cast members of the show. Familiar faces, like Gina Beck, Killian Donnelly, Katie Hall, Alistair Brammer, Fra Fee, Frances Ruffelle, Caroline Sheen, and Jamie Muscato, filled the screen version of the musical phenomenon. Of course, you can’t miss Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop or Samantha Barks as Eponine, two of the wisest casting decisions in my opinion along with Broadway star Aaron Tveit as Enjorlas. Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine is truly award-winning, and she is no doubt the front runner for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Hugh Jackman was wonderful as Jean Valjean even though my preference lies with some of the past performances I’ve seen on stage. While Russell Crowe can act the role of Javert supremely well, his voice is one of the weakest in the cast, and his “Stars” is not as overwhelming as I’ve heard in the past. In case you are unfamiliar with the show, the song doesn’t typically fade out at the end. I appreciated Eddie Redmayne as Marius and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette although I am used to hearing stronger singers in those roles. Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) and Isabelle Allen (Young Cosette) were two of my favorites. Daniel captured the spunk and charisma of Gavroche that makes the character so lovable while Isabelle intelligently introduced us to the ingenue of Les Miserables.
I also appreciated seeing aspects of the book left out of the musical included in the film. For instance, Marius’s Grandfather made a few appearances. Additionally, some parts of Fantine’s story that depcits the horror that her life becomes are added, like the selling of her teeth (Ouch!). While presenting every detail in a live musical is impossible, it’s lovely to see some details reinstated in the film version.
The direction of the film is very interesting. Some of the close-ups and scenic shots seemed a little odd at first, especially with the various angles, but I grew accustomed to the style throughout the film. Ultimately, I think the direction aided the presentation of the story.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the music in the film. Nothing can replace seeing and hearing the live show, but the film represented the show’s music beautifully. Voices don’t need to fill a theatre on the screen, and yet, the songs were still inspiring and emotional. Some of my favorite musical moments in the film include “What Have I Done,” “At the End of the Day,” “Who Am I,” “Castle on a Cloud,” “One Day More,” “Do You Hear the People Sing,” “Drink with Me,” and the “Epilogue.” Also, the addition of the song “Suddenly” is incredible. It’s a touching moment that was well-intertwined with the musical’s existing music. I think this song would be a wonderful addition to future productions of Les Miserables.
Overall, I feel like the film captures the essence of the story that has shaped my life. Les Miserables is an epic tale of faith, hope, love, and redemption. All of these themes are clearly conveyed in the film. Although my preference will always be to see the musical live, I’m happy that I finally have a magnificent film to provide a Les Mis fix at any time.