Les Misèrables on stage or on film?

Les Misèrables the Film

I’m just back from seeing the new Les Misèrables film. I waited a bit longer so I could see it in my favourite small cinema at the Barbican in London. I’m sorry to say I am slightly underwhelmed by the film. I went with every intention of loving it but I just didn’t.

There were some good performances. I though Russell Crowe was amazing. I know he has not got the best voice in the world but unlike some of the critics I was quite impressed by him. His portrayal of Javert, the obsessive policeman is compelling. Jean Valjean  is played by Hugh Jackman and his was also a very good performance. Then of course the tragic Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway was also excellent. Amanda Seyfried (Cossette) and  Eddie Redmayne (Marius) made a charming couple. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, were funny and slightly creepy, as expected. The child actors were stars, of course.

There were heroic set pieces. The opening sequence of the film is incredible from that point of view, but somehow the whole thing for me just didn’t quite gel.  The story is tragic and should be moving. Some people are obviously distressed by the end of it. Not me. There were a couple of moments when I had a lump in my throat. I’m not going to say when, spoilers! But that’s all it was. It did not make me cry or really feel anything much. The sad bits were too sad, too frequent and unrelenting. The funny bits were too arch and overblown to really be funny. Somehow there isn’t time to get to know anyone much apart from Valjean.

It’s often the problem with stage musicals. Things that work on stage just don’t transfer to the big screen. On stage we can get to know a character really quickly but that just doesn’t transfer to film. Everything is happening too fast. A connection with the audience can be made by a character like Éponine (Samantha Barks) by gestures and looks that make us feel for her in a way that I just didn’t in the film. It wasn’t that she gave a bad performance, she was very competent.  It was more that we hardly got to know her before her part was over.

As I felt the music rising to bring us to the end of Act 1 I wanted to have the actors there on the stage in front of me, to feel the emotion heighten, have that moment of tension as the curtain falls and then to nip out for a glass of red! Going straight on to the next scene just flattened it for me. I think it might be time to bring back the intermission!

By the end of the film there is full on emotion and powerful singing. The flags are waving but I just didn’t get that incredible feeling you have at the end of an emotional performance, when the actors have given their all. There wasn’t that release as we watch the ‘dead’ come back to life to take their curtain calls, that feeling that we’ve all travelled through the story together.

On the whole Les Misèrables the film gets a subdued 7/10 from me. Maybe I’m just a sucker for live theatre!

Les Miserables

Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre

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