I would have to say that Les Miserables is my favourite musical of all time. I have seen it over a dozen times, including the 25th Anniversary production at the Barbican, the venue where it was first performed on October 8th 1985 (my birthday). I know the musical well and have seen some absolute magnificent performances, and some rather questionable casting decisions When the film was announced I excited that it was being brought to the cinema but obviously dubious over some of the casting choices and so tried to keep an open mind. I can’t resist spoiling things for myself however and so before I saw the film on Friday I had been listening to highlights from the soundtrack all week, and was already in a more positive frame of mind.
All I can say is that the Tom Hooper’s film didn’t fail to deliver. Whilst I wouldn’t say it’s the best production I have seen, that would have to be the 25th Anniversary production I saw at the Barbican that I mentioned above, it certainly was very well made. Casting-wise I didn’t have an issue with any of the performers; they all acted and sang well, especially Anne Hathaway who is just so moving and astounding as Fontine. I was VERY pleasantly surprised by Russell Crowe who I thought was wonderful as Javert, whilst he doesn’t have a powerful voice, I thought he did the part justice although I do always think you need a vocal equal to Jean Valjean. I was relieved by Sasha Baron Cohen who actually sat into the role of Thenardier seamlessly, and was equally relieved by Helena as I had reservations with her having listening to the soundtrack.
Without being overly negative I was disappointed with two big cuts which had been done to the setlist with the removal of Dog Eats Dog, which I already knew about, and also the reduction of Beggars At The Feast which to be is the last cheerful highlight of the final act but alas this was trimmed down to the last few verses. I also don’t understand why with a musical like Les Mis which doesn’t have any standard piece of dialogue, speaking was introduced into the film; it takes away part of what makes Les Mis, Les Mis. Whilst the film as a whole was very well made, the pacing did seem a little off, especially with the final act; I thought the worsening Jean Valjean’s illness was very sudden. I appreciate that it’s difficult to adapt a stage musical to the screen, but from a film perspective it was very quick. I think in part this could be down more to Hugh Jackman who didn’t really age as the film progressed as much as I thought he should. I was surprised by Javert’s last scene, it was quite a violent fall that he has but given the way in which he lands I don’t think it produced the right reaction in people as a few people in the screen I was in tittered. I don’t understand why that specific take was used, unless it was the only one. Finally, the parts which weren’t shot outside in Royal Greenwich, and France, did seem a little setish. Whilst I don’t have a problem with this, I didn’t get the sense of the size and scope of barricades until the very end when you see the large one across the square, before then it was just the one across the only other street which seemed to appear in the film.
Anyway, not to overly criticise the film, as I said it didn’t fail to deliver and is definitely worth a watch; but once you have watched it, go and see it on the stage!
(Just don’t watch the 25th Anniversary DVD/BD, it’s awful. The worst production I think I’ve seen. If you can’t make it to the theatre watch the 10th Anniversary on DVD.)