I feel an appropriate topic for my first post is Les Mis, my favourite musical (well, one of the only musicals I like), which has just been released as a film, directed by Tom Hooper. I have been fortunate enough to see the stage production in the West End twice, for my 18th and 21st birthdays, and grew up singing the songs in my singing group. I think I classify as a fan. As you can imagine I was excited yet reserved about the film version but once they released the trailer, I was convinced, and spent many an eve re-watching it, sometimes with a wet face.
Here in Canada Les Mis was released on Christmas Day and I went to see it with my Mum on her birthday while she was visiting. She was apprehensive about a three hour musical with no speaking and I was worried at first by the slow start. The first song ‘Look Down’ with Javert (Russel Crowe) and Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is pitched quite high and neither of their voices particularly suited it and I was filled with dread. Luckily the beginning was the worst and it was three hours of joy and sadness and tears.
Many are critical of the film and argue that it cannot encapsulate the large-scale sense of drama all that is going on. I would argue the opposite, that actually, it being a film allows for the events to be put better in context and that by doing this, one is almost overwhelmed by the large-scale sense of drama. Again, because it is a film, the more intimate and quieter moments receive the attention they deserve and are far more emotive than when seen on stage. For example, when Anne Hathaway sings The Song, ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ the camera never leaves her face and I will tell you that it broke my heart a little, as I’m sure it did for others in the audience.
I thought the cast were excellent, especially Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the delightfully disgusting Thénardiers, who were perfect down to every last lip curl. Eddie Redmayne and Anne Hathaway were also a joy to listen to. I could fault the singing of some of the leads but that’s no fun and we all know that they are actors first, singers second. By having big names, more people will go to see it, simple.
I have come to realise that the story is the reason why I like Les Mis so much, and some of the songs too. It being a musical is secondary; I like the songs in the way I would in any soundtrack. They remind me of the part of the film it is from and what it means for the story. I may be heckled for being a heretic, but I could even do without the sung dialogue. For me, the film allows me to engage and empathise more with the characters, understand the story better and focus on one thing at a time, which is harder to do when watching it on stage. The sets, costumes and cinematography are stunning and incredibly dramatic, which I must admit appeals to my aesthetic sensibilities.
Something that my mum said that I also agree with, is that the story is essentially about grace. I have always loved Jean Valjean and wished I knew a man like him, despite his continual desire to not be a burden to anyone (it’s alright, you’re worth it, Jean!) but I have come to realise that he is a pseudo-Christ-like figure. He continually forgives and has such a full heart after all that he has been through. Oh, Jean.
When Les Mis is released in the UK I urge you to buy a ticket as soon as it comes out! It is an epic, I understand, but if you liked/loved/bawled at the trailer, then I think you will love it too.