I have been looking forward to this film for so long! The stage version of Les Miserables is my favourite musical of all time and the Victor Hugo novel is one of my favourite books of all time; so my mood was of cautiously excited optimism when it was first announced that a film adaptation would be made. I love Les Mis of course but Phantom of the Opera - my second favourite musical - got a mostly rubbish adaptation in the 2004 film. Sweeney Todd is another favourite musical of mine and its film adaptation wasn't bad but the stage version is so much better. My excitement did get considerably stronger when Tom Hooper was announced as the director of Les Mis because I loved The King's Speech. And then I got even more excited with every cast member that was announced. OK, there was a big drop in excitement when it was announced from many websites that Taylor Swift was playing Eponine but balance was restored when it was announced that Samantha Barks had got the role instead. And at long last I've finally seen this film - twice! I saw it last night with two friends and tonight with my mum because she wanted someone to go to the cinema with.
So what do I think? Well, before I go into that I'm just going to explain something. This film is not the best sung version of Les Mis that you will ever hear. Both the 10th and 25th anniversary concerts feature better all-round singing and you shouldn't expect the exact same kind of singing that you get in the live stage version. The film is different to the stage version in that that there's much more of an emphasis on acting rather than perfect singing. The singing is softer and there isn't as much belting. Even the actors in this film who come from a stage background adopt this kind of singing. If I heard singing like this at the Queen's Theatre then I would probably think the cast was mediocre. But this film isn't a stage production and cinema is a very different medium to theatre. The difference between theatre and cinema isn't as big as the difference between literature and cinema but they're still very different mediums. What works on stage won't always work on film and vice versa. The singing in this film might not be of the same standard that you get in the stage version but fans shouldn't worry because most of the cast still have great voices and everyone can sing. The standard of singing in this film is far better than the standard of singing in the Phantom of the Opera and Sweeney Todd films! The live singing also worked brilliantly, especially during the more emotional scenes. I hope this approach becomes normal for musical movies in the future.
The film is mostly very faithful to the stage musical but there are some changes and it isn't an exact replica of it. The stage version is a completely sung-through musical but there is some added dialogue in this film; not much though, just the odd spoken line every now and again. There are some new lyrics in places and some songs have been moved around. I Dreamed a Dream, Stars and On My Own are sung in different places to the stage version, and the Red and Black/Do You Hear the People Sing? songs are split up so Do You Hear the People Sing? now comes after One Day More. Thenardier's solo song Dog Eat Dog is the only song from the stage version that is completely absent in this film but other songs are shortened. There were also lots of extra details that were drawn directly from the book which I'll get on to later. For now I'll give my opinions on the cast....
Jean Valjean - Hugh Jackman
Javert - Russell Crowe
Fantine - Anne Hathaway
Young Cosette - Isabelle Allen
The Thenardiers - Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter
Gavroche - Daniel Huttlestone
Marius - Eddie Redmayne
Cosette - Amanda Seyfried
Eponine - Samantha Barks
Samantha Barks is the only adult actor from the main cast who has actually been in the stage version of Les Mis before. She played the role of Eponine for a year at the Queen's Theatre, London and she also took part in the 25th anniversary concert at the O2 Arena. Unsurprisingly Barks's singing voice is excellent in this film! Anyone who comes into this film who's also seen Barks play Eponine live - as I have
: ) - will know that her singing isn't quite the same in this film. Her singing is softer and she tones down the belting somewhat. Her voice is still beautiful though and her renditions of On My Own and A Little Fall of Rain are beautiful. She's one of the film's strongest singers and you can tell she's a professional. Barks's acting was great too. She had screen presence and she's clearly improved from the 25th anniversary concert. She never plays Eponine as being the mentally unstable character of the book but there's more of a toughness about her. Barks had genuine chemistry with Eddie Redmayne as well, but at the same time her Eponine and Redmayne's Marius weren't too matey with each other and I really appreciated that. Their characters are closer than they are in Hugo's book but there was still some distance between them and they're obviously not best friends, which is how some actors portray their relationship in the stage version. Barks doesn't overact in the film either and I think she does a brilliant job. I loved Samantha Barks's performance in this film. Thank God we got to see her as Eponine in this film and not Taylor Swift! That would have been horrible! I'm quite intrigued as to what Samantha Barks will do next. Will she go back to the West End or will she want to do more films? Because I think she has the potential to be a big film star. She has a beautiful, powerful singing voice. She can act. She's stunning. If Wicked gets turned into a film within the next few years I'm absolutely convinced that she'd be considered for the role of Elphaba. I think she'd be fantastic!
The Ensemble - I really loved the fact that a lot of West End stars made cameo appearances in this film. It was such a nice thrill whenever I recognised someone. I spotted Frances Ruffelle (the original Eponine) and Nancy Sullivan playing prostitutes in Lovely Ladies. Bertie Carvel played Bamatabois in Fantine's Arrest. Killian Donnelly and Fra Fee played revolutionary students. Fra Fee played Courfeyrac and he actually got a fair bit of screentime because Courfeyrac got the relationship with Gavroche in the film that Grantaire usually gets with him in the stage version. I loved seeing Gina Beck as a random woman in Turning and Hadley Fraser - who was sporting a very impressive moustache! - as the Army Officer. My favourite West End cameo though came from Colm Wilkinson. He originated the role of Jean Valjean on the West End and Broadway and got to play the character again for the 10th anniversary concert. He played the Bishop in this film and he gave an excellent performance. Even though he's 68 now he's still a great voice and he hit the Bishop's low notes much better than I thought he would. His acting was great and I loved that we got to see him at Valjean's death scene too! It made so much more sense for the Bishop to be there instead of Eponine! Why would Eponine appear at Valjean's death scene anyway?! Valjean never even speaks to her in the book, and in the stage musical Eponine is disguised as a boy when she hands him Marius's letter to Cosette. I doubt Valjean would have even recognised her when she appeared as a girl!
Okay, I've covered the cast so I'll move on to other aspects of the film. Well, it certainly looked excellent and the production values were top-notch. It had a very authentically gritty look and feel. You see haggard-looking prostitutes and beggars with bad skin. You get a bloody but not too gory battle and some disturbingly realistic-looking sewage! Hooper really made the most of the cinematic medium too. The film is shot really well and Hooper made use of things that simply can't be done in the theatre. There are tracking shots and some big panorama shots. The opening scene with Valjean and the other convicts towing the ship in the water looked terrific as did the final scene with the massive barricade. You get a lot of close-ups of the actor's faces in this film as well. This was great because unless you're sitting very close to the front you simply can't see the expressions on the actor's faces in that much detail at the theatre. The close-ups really added to the emotion of the film. The sound mixing and editing was brilliant in this film too. I could clearly hear every single word that the actors were singing and the One Day More scene was brilliantly edited. It was amazing to watch!
I was of course thrilled by the added-in book details in this film too! Although the film is clearly based directly on the stage musical rather than the book itself, it still draws a lot of inspiration from Victor Hugo's novel. A lot of things from the book that aren't in the stage version have been included in this film. I really admire Tom Hooper for that because he could have simply decided to just make a faithful adaptation of the stage musical and no-one would have really complained. But he decided to go above and beyond the call of duty by including extra details drawn from the book and I loved that. The stage musical is already very faithful to the book anyway in my opinion, and because of the extra book details this film is now the most accurate adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel I've ever seen! I've already mentioned a few added-in book details already but there are lots of others that I haven't mentioned yet. Fantine sells her teeth in this film. Bamatabois shoves snow down Fantine's dress. Valjean isn't imprisoned on the Orion in this film but the way he escapes from Javert in The Confrontation was clearly a reference to how he escapes from the ship in the book. Valjean takes Young Cosette away from the Thenardiers' Inn at Christmas time and he buys her a doll. Valjean and Young Cosette sneak into the convent to hide from Javert and meet Fauchelevant. Gavroche's elephant is in this film. Eponine hides Cosette's letter to Marius. You see the Cafe Musain. The students gatecrash General Lamarque's funeral. Eponine saves Marius's life by taking a bullet for him. Valjean actually feels upset and threatened by Marius when he finds out that Cosette is in love with him (although he certainly gets over it much more quickly). Enjolras and Grantaire get shot by a firing squad like they do in the book. And there was an obvious reference to Thenardier "saving" the life of Marius's father in the sewer scene. Yay for these extra book details!
In fact the film does actually improve upon the stage musical in many ways. There are the extra book details for one thing and Cosette and Marius's characters are much better developed. There was also more historical backstory so I think newcomers to the film would have a slightly easier time understanding what was going on than someone going to see the stage version for the first time. For example: Gavroche got a great new verse in Look Down about how France got rid of the king and now there's a new king who's no better. It was also mentioned at one point that there are more Barricades in Paris than just the one that we see, that it's not just 20 odd students fighting the whole French army. The runaway cart scene is much better done in this film than it's done on stage as well; we didn't get someone shouting "Look out, it's a runaway cart!" and awkward slow motion. Also, in the Prologue scene Javert asks Valjean to perform a feat of strength so you know what Javert is thinking of when Valjean saves Fauchelevant. I Dreamed a Dream, On My Own and Do You Hear the People Sing? all made more sense in their new positions. I was very happy that Turning was cut down considerably. Those inaccurate lyrics about the students being silly, naive schoolboys who had never held guns before and didn't really know what they were doing were completely gone. I liked that the Thenardiers didn't even get any pity money from Marius at the wedding scene. After Marius punches Thenardier they're forcibly evicted. Their singing is defiant then rather than celebratory and I found that funnier. I preferred the ending as well. There's a massive barricade in Heaven with all of the characters who died singing. It's even more beautiful, uplifting and inspiring than the ending in the stage musical!
Is this film perfect? No, I don't think it is. I've pointed out a few flaws already but there are others. I thought that showing Fantine having sex between Lovely Ladies and I Dreamed a Dream was unnecessary but thankfully it was a very short scene. Also, some of the cuts that they made in this film were jarring and disappointed me. I understand that some cuts had to be made of course, and that they did need to make room for the extra book details, but I was still disappointed with some of them. I was sad that they took out Eponine's opening lines in On My Own - "And now I'm all alone again..." - because I've always loved these lines and it felt quite weird to have the song simply start with "On my own". They also took out my favourite lyrics from A Little Fall of Rain: "I'll sleep in your embrace at last/The rain that brings you here is heaven-blessed/The skies begin to clear and I'm at rest". I love these lyrics! I've already mentioned that Grantaire's verse being taken out of Drink With Me made me sad. Attack at Rue Plumet was cut to pieces and it started with "Who is this hussy?" rather than "This is his lair/I've seen the old fox around". That was another cut that felt really weird. Also, I've never really been a huge fan of Dog Eat Dog but it would have still been nice to have seen it all the same. The song shows the sinister, evil side of Thenardier's character. I'm hoping that there will be an extended edition DVD release of the film. There's an online fan petition for one - which I've signed - and Tom Hooper has mentioned that they shot a whole 4 hours worth of material for the film. He's said that he'd only consider putting 15 or 20 minutes back in though. As for me I'd at least like the extended edition to include Dog Eat Dog, more Enjolras and Grantaire scenes, and longer versions of Attack at Rue Plumet, On My Own and A Little Fall of Rain - just to make the film that little bit better.
However, this film is still amazing and beautiful and wonderful and it lived up to my expectations! Even though I've only seen it twice I can now say that it's one of my favourite films of all time and I'll definitely be buying it on DVD! Now I love the book, the stage version and the film! The film is a brilliant combination between the book and the stage musical and Tom Hooper clearly respected, understood and loved them both. I'll be forever grateful to him for directing this film. The film may not be perfect or flawless and I'm sure that they'll be times in the future when I'll want to watch this film on DVD and other times when I'll fancy watching my beloved 10th anniversary concert instead, on those occasions when I'll want belting and more powerful vocals and Philip Quast's Javert. But I loved the vast majority of the cast in this film and it gets so, so, so much right that it feels almost wrong to nitpick it. Things could have gone so badly wrong in this film! There could have been terrible casting, a script that removed lots of the songs, stupid changes for no good reason, bad orchestrations, autotuning... but that didn't happen. I absolutely adored this film and my friends and mum loved it too. The reviews I've read from fans have been mostly extremely positive and it seems that the general public has responded really well to this film as well. I know people who haven't read the book and haven't seen the stage version that still loved this film. I'm so happy : )