I recently had the opportunity to watch the recent movie adaptation of the musical version of Victor Hugo’s classic novel Les Miserables. I thoroughly enjoyed this rendition of what has been called the longest running musical in history, even though there were a few disappointments.
But first, here’s a short synopsis:
Les Miserables tells a story of broken dreams, unfulfilled love, lifelong resentment, ongoing sacrifice, unrivaled patriotism, and finally redemption set with the interesting backdrop of 19th-century France. In the story, Jean Valjean, former convict (arrested for stealing a loaf of bread) and parole violator, is hunted for decades by the unrelenting Inspector Javert. During the time of his parole violation, Valjean takes on a new identity and becomes a successful businessman and politician. Later, Valjean agrees to care for the terminated factory worker turned prostitute Fantine’s young daughter, Cosette. Meanwhile, another man has been mistakenly identified as Valjean. The real Jean Valjean appears in court and reveals the truth about his identity, giving up both his life and position in society. Even after his confession, Valjean escapes from custody and retrieves Cosette from the evil Thenardiers. Eight years are spent in hiding for Valjean and Cosette. Then, Valjean is nearly recaptured because of being spotted by the Thenardiers and Cosette falls in love with the young Marius, who is loved desperately by Eponine, the daughter of the Thenardiers. The story deepens as all of the characters interact in passionate and even violent ways.
Click here to see the official trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkHHHUk8RCw
One brave experiment done in this interpretation of Victor Hugo’s epic tale is that every take was filmed with live singing. This may be criticized by some, but it actually helps the film seem more real to the viewer. Eddie Redmayne, who plays Marius, explains:
“Normally if you were making an old-school movie musical, as a group of actors, we’d go into a studio and we’d record an album and then two months later we’d arrive on set. They would play the playback and we would mime alongside it. The problem with that is that you have to make all of your acting choices three months before you’ve even met the actor that you’re working with. By recording it live, Tom (the director) is allowing us the spontaneity of normal film acting.”
To see the full clip with interviews with Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne, and others, click here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-uw5TehnZA
When the recording was done, the actors used an earpiece which allowed them to hear accompaniment from a live pianist. This meant that they weren’t confined to the tempo of a studio track, allowing them even more freedom. Then, later, the piano music was replaced by an orchestral accompaniment following the actor’s voice for the tempo. To me, the success of this was best seen by Samantha Barks, who portrayed Eponine, singing On My Own and with Anne Hathaway, who protrayed Fantine, singing I Dreamed A Dream. The (good) acting made all of the difference.
One of my favorite scenes in the production was the comic relief piece Master of the House made complete by the performances of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baren Cohen as the Thenardiers. Even though I’m not a big fan of Sacha Baren Cohen because of his portrayal of Borat demeaning the entire country of Kazakhstan (where I spent a year of my life), I must admit that I was able to forget his true identity during this presentation and I truly enjoyed his performance, especially alongside the talented Helena Bonham Carter.
The entire movie production of Les Miserables, in my opinion, was very well done. I enjoyed the improvement of the acting that is not often seen in many musicals as well as the musical interpretations of the songs presented. Even though Russell Crowe’s vocal performance was somewhat lacking, I was very impressed by the performances of Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, and to a lesser extent, Amanda Seyfried. There were a few odd moments during the musical, such as the constant foreshadowing of Javert’s suicide and the unfounded cause of Jean Valjean’s death. All in all, I wish I would have cared more about the characters, however, I cared enough about them to enjoy this production immensely.