I’m normally a massive fan of musical films. One of my favourite (if not my absolute favourite) films of all time is West Side Story, and I adore The King and I, Calamity Jane, The Producers, Chicago, I could go on for hours…They’re a fantastically light-hearted and entertaining way of opening up the world of musical theatre to those unable to get to a theatre to see the real thing. When I heard that they were making a film version of Les Miserables, however, I couldn’t help but feel a sudden pang of panic amongst all of the excitement. ‘Why?’ I hear you ask. Because, despite being one of the all-time greats and a much-loved production on stage, as well as one of my personal favourites, I wasn’t entirely convinced that this iconic musical could be pulled off on the big screen. Yes, the film has been applauded by the critics, but it just doesn’t quite do it justice for me. Here’s why after seeing the film, I think I was unfortunately proved right:
Casting Russel Crowe
Let’s not kid ourselves here, I never doubted that poor Russel’s singing would be atrocious, (think Pierce Brosnan’s sorry attempt in Mama Mia), but whilst he can just about carry a tune acceptably, his vocals are more embarrassing dad than Javert. What was most disappointing about his performance though, was that whilst I never expected the casting of Russel Crowe as Inspector Javert to be an inspired decision in any way, I at least thought he’d be able to act his way though the role. After all, he is a three-time Academy Award nominee, winning it on one of those occasions. In reality I was underwhelmed by his seemingly dry and tired, almost uninterested acting. It’s a shame Javert is in so many scenes because I was dreading every one of them. Unconvincing and quite emotionless, I felt no sympathy for the character which is a stark contrast to how I felt when watching the show on stage. He spends too much time trying to perfect the burning glare that he neglects to evoke any other emotions at all. No doubt his casting was a stunt used by many a director, using a big name to draw in more of an audience, who had “no idea that Russel Crowe could sing!”. Sorry folks, he can’t, and judging by this performance, he’s losing his touch as an actor too!
Changing the role of Eponine (albeit slightly)
This was a low point in the film for me. In the stage show, Eponine, despite her love for Marius, helps him to find where Cosette lives, and later makes the dangerous journey to give Valjean Marius’ letter for Cosette, which ultimately results in Eponine’s death. Whilst this isn’t entirely true to Victor Hugo’s novel, and in fact the film comes closer in it’s portrayal of Eponine’s story, Eponine’s sacrifice despite her love for Marius is what makes her such a loved character, and her death much more devastating than in the film. In the film, we see Eponine hide a letter that Cosette has written to Marius, telling him of their flight to England (flight in the fleeing sense!), which she only gives to Marius with her dying breath. True, this is in fact what happens in the novel, however, Eponine’s character then seems to be selfish, and her jumping in front of a bullet meant for Marius seems more of martyrdom to satisfy her guilt, then an act of selfless undying love. I’m normally all for fierce fidelity when it comes to adapting novels, however in this case I do believe the film would have done better to take a leaf out of the stage show’s book and show Eponine’s real sacrifice and struggle with her love for Marius. What’s more, there simply wasn’t enough of Eponine in the film. When asking young girls who have seen the stage show who they most connected with, the majority would scream Eponine, yet the focus of this film is entirely on Amanda Seyfried’s Cosette. A fantastic actress, yes, but just another big name to tick off the spot the star list that runs through the film. Samantha Barks won the role of Eponine in the film, because she was so popular amongst fans when playing the character on London’s West End. Cameron Mackintosh was so impressed by her, that he handed her the role in the 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2 Arena. When she was on screen, she thoroughly impressed and is more than capable of doing true justice to Epoinine’s tragic plight and torn conscience. Unfortunately, however, she never really had enough time.
That horrendous new song
I admit I was intrigued when I heard that they were writing a new song to go into the film. The Les Miserables soundtrack is, of course, an epic emotional roller coaster of desperation, despair, love, comedy and tragedy, so I was in two minds about an addition to something I already see as perfect. Still, if it’s as good as the likes of ‘Bring Him Home’, ‘Stars’, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, ‘On My Own’, ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ and of course ‘Do You Here the People Sing’, not to mention ‘One Day More’…okay, so basically every song, then it doesn’t matter right? The problem, however, is that the new song ‘Suddenly’ is just so…awful. Valjean sings this song in a carriage after rescuing young Cosette from the Thernardiers, singing of his delight at suddenly having someone in his life to share his love with, but the song itself feels as if it has just been dropped into the film and is really quite pointless. Another decision made to get fans of the show to come and see the film with the promise of a new song, the lyrics are mediocre at best, the melody doesn’t really set the emotions running and it really did seem needless. I have a copy of the stage show’s soundtrack, and if this sorry attempt at a song is all that will be added to the movie soundtrack, I won’t be buying it.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter just weren’t funny (or awful) enough!
The purpose of the Thernardiers is to offer light relief to an other wise (let’s face it) really rather depressing story. Everyone dies, the good guys lose their battle and there really is very little hope. Without the comic relief of Monsieur and Madame Thernardier, the audience would be left completely drained emotionally by a barrage of desperation and despair. This common as muck, disgustingly awful but hilariously witty and cunning double act very much make up one of the highlights of the stage show. The audience can’t wait for their appearances and they often get more of a cheer at the end than many of the main characters. However, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter was a prestigious pairing that promised so much and yet offered so little to the film. Baron Cohen’s slips between French and English accents may have been an attempt to seem quirky and humorous, but was really rather pointless and gave nothing to the development of the character. I’m not saying they weren’t funny at all, on the contrary, they did show rare sparks of humour in ‘Master of the House’ and in other scenes, but unfortunately they really didn’t deliver the slimy, loathsome, hilarious characters that we see in the stage show. Unfortunate, and extremely underwhelming!
That’s not to say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the film. I laughed, I cried, I even got goosebumps a few times (‘I Dreamed a Dream’ and ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’). The film is up for a host of awards and should at least win some of them. The casting of Hugh Jackman as Valjean and Anne Hathaway as Fantine was absolutely perfect. Incidentally, if she doesn’t win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress I might well throw a tantrum! Despite my qualms with the film’s portrayal of Eponine, Samantha Barks was wonderful, Adam Tveit was rousing as Enjolras and Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried were brilliant as Marius and Cosette. The fact that all of the actors sung live on set gave the film a gritty, raw feel with emotional honesty and exposed the actors wonderfully. The special effects were suitably impressive, the score is sheer beauty and the cinematography was pretty great too. I left the cinema impressed much of the film, but I also left feeling significantly underwhelmed by other aspects, which really was a big shame!