Set during the French Revolution in the 18th Century, Les Misérables follows the life of one man, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a man convicted of stealing a loaf of bread. Upon his release, he goes missing, violating the terms of his parole, much to the disgust of Javert (Russell Crowe) - a Parisian policeman hell-bent on justice. The story continues through the French revolution.
My love of Les Miserables can be directly attributed to my girlfriend. It was the first musical that we ever saw together. It was her idea to see it, I had no interest in seeing a musical that I had very little idea about. Truth be told, I had very little interest in seeing a musical at all. Let alone one that sounded so... miserable.
Since watching it in the West End, we have also seen Oliver!, The Phantom of the Opera and Wicked and, although they are all good, they don't come close in recreating the pure passion shown in Les Miserables. We also watched the 25th anniversary concert live in the cinema (including mid-interval ice cream), and a 1998 film adaptation featuring Liam Neeson, which, like this film adaptation, was more based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel.
To say that we were both keen to see this latest adaptation is an understatement - we were both positively buzzing before entering the big screen. The only thing that could ruin the film would have been incessant clapping at the end of each song. No pressure then.
I must admit, I was more than a little disappointed during the opening scenes. Gone were the thunderous bass tones of "Look Down" that I was used to in the musical, replaced instead by a more muted version sung by men pulling a very impressive looking boat. The first interaction between Crowe and Jackman was also slightly disappointing as both men sounded audibly flat.
This negativity is probably due to the film being set in a far larger environment than the enclosure of theatre that I am used to. The 'live' singing (as opposed to the more standard procedure of adding the music in post production) probably didn't help either. The live set did have its positives though by enhancing the realism. For a small moment during the introduction Hugh Jackman chokes on water as he struggles against the elements.
The film's first high for me, is also arguably its best moment. Anne Hathaway's rendition of I Dreamed A Dream has been much discussed - especially now that it is award season - and I can say that it didn't disappoint. It wasn't what I expected though, her singing does not rival the now infamous bellows of Susan Boyle, but she does deliver an emotionally heartbreaking version and she chokes back tears. It is as though she has read each lyric of the song and decided how to act accordingly, before finally plugging on a singing voice that a choir would not be ashamed of.
From this point, I felt I could disassociate the film with the musical. I feel this is important as it enables you to see the film more as a visual storyline, rather than a celebration of music. None of the main actors - except Samantha Barks - would declare themselves singers, they are all actors first and musicians second.
The introduction of the Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) is also rather dull without the feature of a pantomime dame type actor, although both grow on me and by the end of the film offer a truly hilarious and welcoming distraction from the draining storyline.
I must admit, one of the reasons I went was to see the brilliant Samantha Barks as Eponine. Although relatively unknown compared with the rest of the cast, she is the lone survivor of the big characters in the West End production of Les Miserables. She fought off competition from a glut of other Hollywood actresses, and I'm pleased she did - not only is the only natural singer amongst the headliners.
On the subject of natural singers, it is surprising that more weren't included. I have nothing against the cast - they all did a sterling job - but whoever saw X-Men and thought that Wolverine would be the best choice to sing the high notes in "Bring Him Home" must need their head tested. In Jackman's defence, although he doesn't reach the notes, he does adapt the song to fit around his more limited vocal range and it doesn't sound too out of place.
Finally, I was pleased there was no incessant clapping after each song that I had heard rumours of (although, bizarrely, Odeon did decide to put an ice cream cart just inside the cinema), and all I had to put up with was my girlfriend squeezing my hand in approving joy of songs that were performed to her critical satisfaction.
While slightly off-putting at the time, it did prove to me that the film was living up to her high levels of expectations, which is why I have no problems in recommending Les Miserables to the casual filmgoer or the most seasoned theatre attender - although for the latter, try to imagine you never saw the musical.
Review by wizzardSS on . Film Rating: 4/5