Film Review: Les Misérables

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage.

And oddly enough for me, considering how often I have shed tears whilst watching it, I remained largely dry-eyed throughout. I welled up once or twice but to my immense surprise, not a single tear rolled down my cheek. I wonder if expectation had its part to play in this, I know that the removal of a couple of the trigger points from the score did – the second chorus of ‘Drink With Me’ when the female voices join in, the moment when Éponine joins Fantine to harmonise gorgeously in the finale – but there was also an emotional distance to the presentation of some of the bigger solo numbers that didn’t quite work for me. Samantha Barks’ ‘On My Own’ really fell flat here despite being well sung and even Eddie Redmayne’s ‘Empty Chairs…’ and the much-fêted ‘I Dreamed A Dream’, in which Anne Hathaway makes a definitive grab for an Oscar, didn’t transcend from their undoubted poignancy to the genuine show-stopping moments I craved.

Where the film really excels is in the grand scale of the ensemble moments. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thénardiers leading a raucous ‘Master of the House’, the lascivious lovely ladies, the impassioned student revolutionaries, Hooper revels in the opportunities granted by putting together such a talented and ginormous supporting cast and placing them in scenes of epic grandeur. I also loved how he really gave a sense of how limited, in the grand scheme of things, the size of the protest actually was in terms of the scale of the city, ramming home the futility of their efforts as even the city-folk for whom they were fighting turned a blind eye to them – it’s always nice to see a fresh angle on material so familiar.

For the more eagle-eyed among you, there surely cannot be a film filled with more thesp spotting opportunities that you could hope to see, with almost every scene jam-packed with familiar faces from the stage. Amongst my favourite spots were Bertie Carvel’s sleazy Bamatabois, Nicola Sloane’s hair-hungry crone and Gabriel Vick as one of the revolutionaries, but the top one has to be the factory scene in which Kate Fleetwood and Hannah Waddingham lead the other workers, who include Clare Foster and Kirsty Hoiles, in making Fantine’s life a misery – so much female fierceness is almost too much to bear! I’ve included the cast list in all its glory below so that you too can spot any familiar names and when you might spot them in the film.

But a film needs big names in order to be made in the harsh economic climate of today (and of Hollywood in general) and this leads to mixed results. Hugh Jackman commands the screen (when Hooper’s camera allows him to…) as Valjean, with a performance of steely intensity and bearded earnestness that never fails to convince, Anne Hathaway really does bring a majestic rawness to the virtuous but unfortunate Fantine and Eddie Redmayne is surprisingly effective as a sweet and sweet-voiced Marius. Russell Crowe’s Javert is certainly well acted but the vocal demands of the role feel a little beyond him and Amanda Seyfried’s Cosette is a little too tremulously breathy, the result of a vocal part pitched a little too high as much as anything.

But as I started off by saying, so few of us can really approach this film with a genuinely clean slate – so much of the discussion that I’ve had with other people, and indeed my own thoughts, are predicated on an already established idea of how it should be done or how it should sound. Which is fine, we all carry baggage, but I do think that we all ought to remember this a bit more. Russell Crowe may not be the strongest singer but comparing him to one’s favourite stage Javert helps no-one in the end, he is doing a different job here. And for my own part, perhaps I lay too much expectation on being moved by the film in the same way as the theatrical version so perhaps a second viewing to test the tear ducts may be in order.

Full cast list

Jean Valjean . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . HUGH JACKMAN
Javert  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . RUSSELL CROWE
Fantine  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .ANNE HATHAWAY
Cosette. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .AMANDA SEYFRIED
Thénardier  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .SACHA BARON COHEN
Madame Thénardier . . . . . . . .HELENA BONHAM CARTER
Marius. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . EDDIE REDMAYNE
Enjolras. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . AARON TVEIT
Éponine  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . SAMANTHA BARKS
Gavroche  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . DANIEL HUTTLESTONE
Convict 1  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .CAVIN CORNWALL
Convict 2  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .JOSEF ALTIN
Convict 3  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . DAVID HAWLEY
Convict 4  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ADAM JONES
Convict 5  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JOHN BARR
Overseer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . TONY ROHR
Mairie Officer  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .RICHARD DIXON
Innkeeper  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .ANDY BECKWITH
Jailer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . STEPHEN BENT
Bishop  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . COLM WILKINSON
Madame Baptistine  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . GEORGIE GLEN
Madame Magloire. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .HEATHER CHASEN
Constable 1  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PAUL THORNLEY
Constable 2  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PAUL HOWELL
Fauchelevent  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .STEPHEN TATE
Foreman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .MICHAEL JIBSON
Factory Woman 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .KATE FLEETWOOD
Factory Woman 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . HANNAH WADDINGHAM
Factory Woman 3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . CLARE FOSTER
Factory Woman 4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . KIRSTY HOILES
Factory Woman 5 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JENNA BOYD
Factory Woman 6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ALICE FEARN
Factory Woman 7 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ALISON TENNANT
Factory Woman 8 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MARILYN CUTTS
Factory Woman 9 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . CATHY BREEZE
Factory Onlooker  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JOHN ALBASINY
Bamatabois  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . BERTIE CARVEL
Brevet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .TIM DOWNIE
Cochepaille. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ANDREW HAVILL
Bamatabois’ Valet  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . DICK WARD
Hair Crone  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . NICOLA SLOANE
Pimp . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . DANIEL EVANS
Sailor 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . DAVID STOLLER
Sailor 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ROSS MccORMACK
Sailor 3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JAYGANN AYEH
Toothman  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ADRIAN SCARBOROUGH
Whore 1  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . FRANCES RUFFELLE
Whore 2  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . LYNNE WILMOT
Whore 3  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . CHARLOTTE SPENCER
Head Whore . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JULIA WORSLEY
Client  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . KEITH DUNPHY
Pawn Broker. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ASHLEY ARTUS
Organ-Grinder  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JOHN SURMAN
Magistrate  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .DAVID CANN
Champmathieu. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JAMES SIMMONS
Nursing Sister. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . POLLY KEMP
Babet  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .IAN PIRIE
Brujon. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .ADAM PEARCE
Clacquesous. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .JULIAN BLEACH
Montparnasse  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MARC PICKERING
Young Cosette  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ISABELLE ALLEN
Young Éponine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . NATALYA WALLACE
Customer 1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PHIL SNOWDEN
Customer 2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . HADRIAN DELACEY
Baby . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . LOTTIE STEER
Tall Customer  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . SAM PARKS
Portly Customer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MARK DONOVAN
Handsome Soldier 1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . LEWIS KIRK
Handsome Soldier 2. . . . . . . . . . . . LEIGHTON RAFFERTY
Father Christmas 1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PETER MAIR
Father Christmas 2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JACK CHISSICK
Inn Whore 1  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .DIANNE PILKINGTON
Inn Whore 2  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ROBYN NORTH
Mother Whore. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . NORMA ATALLAH
Gillenormand  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PATRICK GODFREY
Citizens. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .MARK ROPER, PAUL LEONARD
Gavroche’s Urchins  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MILES ROUGHLEY, CAMERON STREFFORD, ALFIE DAVIS, JOSEPH WEST
Beggar 1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JOEL PHILLIMORE
Beggar 2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JACQUELINE DANKWORTH
Beggar 3. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .AMELIA JEFFORD
Beggar 4. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . CHRIS BARNES
Duc De Raguse  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . RICHARD CORDERY
Combeferre  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . KILLIAN DONNELLY
Courfeyrac  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . FRA FEE
Feuilly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . GABRIEL VICK
Grantaire. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . GEORGE BLAGDEN
Joly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . HUGH SKINNER
Lesgles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .STUART NEAL
Prouvaire  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ALISTAIR BRAMMER
Madame Hucheloup. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .KATY SECOMBE
Army Officer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . HADLEY FRASER
Turning Woman 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . LINZI HATELEY
Turning Woman 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . GEMMA WARDLE
Turning Woman 3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . GINA BECK
Turning Woman 4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .KATIE HALL
Turning Woman 5 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .LISA HULL
Turning Woman 6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ANDREA DECK
Turning Woman 7 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JESSICA DUNCAN
Turning Woman 8 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . KERRY INGRAM
Majordomo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JOHN WARNABY
Father Mabeuf  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .MIKE SARNE
Café Barmaid . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .FREYA PARKS
Mother  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ELLIE BEAVEN
Ensemble “At the End of the Day” . . RICHARD BREMMER, ALEXANDER BROOKS, ELEANOR BRUCE, EMMA DUKES, STEPHEN MATTHEWS, PETER SARACEN, SEBASTIAN SYKES, PHIL ZIMMERMAN
Ensemble Factory Women . . . . . . . . . . . .BESSIE CARTER, HELEN COTTERILL, TRICIA DEIGHTON, MANDY HOLLIDAY, CHARLOTTE HOPE, JACKIE MARKS, SARA PELOSI, MARY ROSCOE, AMELIA SCARAMUCCI, CAROLINE SHEEN
Ensemble “Lovely Ladies”  . . . . . . . . . RACHAEL ARCHER, LORNA BROWN, ANTONIA CLARKE, MARY CORMACK, SONYA CULLINGFORD, HOLLY DALE SPENCER, AMY GRIFFITHS, FANIA GRIGORIOU, AMANDA HENDERSON, ALEXIA KHADIME, LUISA LAZZARO, GEMMA O’DUFFY, ROSA O’REILLY, AMY ELLEN RICHARDSON, OLIVIA ROSE-AARON, ROBYN MIRANDA SIMPSON, RACHEL STANLEY, NANCY SULLIVAN, REBECCA SUTHERLAND, TABITHA WEBB
Ensemble “Master of the House”. . . . . GERARD BENTALL, TONY BIGNELL , MICHAEL CAHILL, RICHARD COLSON , KERRY ELLIS, SIMON FISHER-BECKER , SARAH FLIND, KELLY-ANNE GOWER, JAMES GREENE, NICK HOLDER, CHRIS HOWELL, ALISON JIEAR, TERENCE KEELY, MARTIN MARQUEZ, SALLY MATES, JEFF NICHOLSON, ADAM SEARLES, SIMON SHORTEN
Ensemble Paris Beggars  . . . . . . . . . . . .JULIET ALDERICE, SEAN BUCKLEY, VALERIE CUTKO, SPIKE GRIMSEY, MATT HARROP, GEORGINA JACKSON, PERRY MILLWARD, PHIL PHILMAR, JOYCE SPRINGER, JULIE STARK
Ensemble Students  . . . . . . . . . . . DOMINIC APPLEWHITE, MATTHEW CORNER, ANDY COXON, JONATHAN D. DUDLEY, RHIDIAN MARK, CHRIS MILFORD, JAMIE MUSCATO, JOSEPH PETERS, JONNY PURCHASE, DAVID ROBERTS, STEVEEE ROSS-DAVIES, MATT SEADON YOUNG, JOS SLOVICK, SAMUEL J. WEIR
Ensemble Turning Women  . . . . . . . .SOPHIE HUCHINSON, ELLA HUNT, CLAIRE MACHIN, BRENDA MOORE, MISCHA PURNELL, ANNETTE YEO

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