Les Miserables the Movie – Worthy of Praise


OK, so as we were getting to the movie theatre, I confessed to my friends that I was a bit apprehensive. When asked why, I confessed that my love for Les Miserables is based pretty much on the music, even though I pretty much like the story itself. I was afraid that adding action scenes and scenery might take away from the music, and I was not acquainted with some of the singers. I was very much surprised.

Lights down, the overture for the movie begins, and the first scene opens high above a ship (think old time sailing ships) as the first sounds of “Look Down” start playing. I jumped up and shouted “I love it already”. (well, maybe not jumped up, but I raised my arms and sort of shouted.) I also said to everyone, I promise not to sing outloud, and nobody talk to me. As the camera slowly panned downward, dots in the water became clear as men pulling this ship on ropes into dry dock. Many, many more men than seen on stage, obviously, and the sound was sensational.

Then we are panned to Russell Crowe, as Javert, standing above looking down on these men. He comes down and pulls Valjean as played by Hugh Jackman out of the line and tells him “go pick up the flag”. The flag is attached to a very large, very heavy mast (because of Jackman’s acting, you know this, and it is important later in the film).

Anyway, Javert gives Valjean his parole papers to release him, and points out that it is a lifetime parole. So I still don’t really know, even after all the shows and the book, why Javert hated Valjean so much that he stalked him the rest of his life (Javert’s live, that is). We begin to see the most beautiful scenery in the world as we see Valjean start out on his journey away from the prison – huge high snow-covered mountains in the background. We see him being refused work because of his record, and being kicked away from places where he would beg a meal, just horrible, intolerant treatment. Finally he is found outside what turns out to be a great cathedral and taken in to be fed. Now in the book, and in the plays, we know this is a poor Bishop’s house, but in the movie they did make it a very wealthy cathedral, and the whole idea of their giving all their “wealth” Valjean is taken away. Well okay. The biggest surprise to me at this point is that the man who played the Bishop was Colm Wilkinson, the original London stage Valjean and the same in the 10th anniversary.

Wilkinson also shows up later playing both Marius’ grandfather, and finally at the end “God” inviting the deceased Valjean into heaven. We don’t see Valjean die in the stage show, nor does he die immediately in the book when Cosette has found him again, but it was a very poignant scene in this movie.

So there were changes of story, a bit of writers’ license, but since the original writers of music and lyrics of the stage play were involved, I take it that what minor changes were made for drama were approved of. There is a new song in the movie that does not appear in the plays – Suddenly, which has been nominated for an Oscar (and was for a Golden Globe, which it did not win). There is a rule in these awards that the original song has to have been written for the movie, and only appeared in the last year. So none of the original music that we all know and love was eligible for an award, and certainly the movie/play has such beautiful music, they needed a way to get something from it as original song. It is the song Valjean sings as he and Cosette are riding away in a carriage from the innkeeper, and she is sleeping on his lap as he sings about how Suddenly he has fallen in love with this young girl, as a father, of course, but also as a man who has never had this sort of responsibility before, and it makes him very happy.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine does not do “I had a dream” song after she was dismissed from the factory, but later, after her first sexual encounter as a prostitute. It does not change the sense of sadness we feel about her downfall: I think, in fact, that it makes it more potent, to see how she came to this. They also portrayed her having her teeth pulled to sell them (although in later scenes when singing, her teeth were there), but they did cut her hair off in the movie. She had beautiful long hair, and I am not sure if Anne truly had her hair cut or not. I know in earlier movies she had long dark brown hair – I just dont kow if she has always worn wigs, or if they really did cut her hair, which is beautifully short now. As well, Anne sings in a tiny soprano voice, but you can hear every line and every empathy you should hear as she suffered. (I have been informed by one of my FB friends that she saw Anne in an entertainment show, being interviewed about Les Mis, and she said that yes, they did cut her hair in the film, for the film.)

It is at this point that the cart breaks away, and Valjean shows his strength by picking up a heavy post and causes Javert to semi-recognize him. He does not at that time speak of the man arrested as Valjean then – he says that later when he is trying to get himself punished for believing it was the Mayor. And we do see Valjean in court, telling them he is the real Valjean, and proves it by using his serial number, 24601, otherwise they would not have believed him. This was slightly glossed over in the book as well, so it answered a question some of us having in reading the book.

Valjean goes to the hospital and sits with Fantine until she dies, and then he and Javert have a sword fight, with Valjean diving into the river to get away.

Russell Crowe I know has a band, and does pop music. I understand he had a lot of training to get his voice trained for this style of music. He has a very high tenor. In fact, in the movie, all the singers are sopranos and tenors.

As for the Thenardiers, Helena Bonham Carter was great, and Sacha Baron Cohen was too over the top in idiocy, but it really did not take away from the show. It was just that they being portrayed in a movie gave the director a lot of slack to make them come across as crude as you knew they would be. I actaully gave a great laugh toward the end of the movie. When they arrived at the wedding of Marius and Cosette, outside, they walked in through a carriage and out the other side. I broke out in laughter because I was so unexpecting it. And in the movie, they were carried out of the ballroom by servants, whereas in the play they stayed and attended. I suspect the song they sing in the play that contains the lines “Here comes a prince, there goes a Jew, that ones a queer, but what can you do?” would have offended a lot of people, so they changed that a bit. I don’t remember how it went in the book, but I believe it was a little closer to the play.

As for the ABC REvolutionary students (all their names begin with a different letter of the alphabet from A to at least M in the play, though there were quite a few of them, and more involved in the fight), Eddie Redmayne as Marius (a really cute freckled fellow), Aaron Tveit as Enjolras (beautiful curly red-gold hair), and George Blogden as Grantiere (lovely black curly hair, and apparently a brother of Gavroche) were all excellent in their voices, and in their songs, and in their actions. One name I didn’t recognize in the major credits was David Huttleston (Huttleson), and I suspect that might have been the one who played Gavroche.

The scenery is gorgeous – lots of singing on top of high places, lots of shots from high above, lots of grime and a room above a bar where the revolutionaries met, great scenes with the Notre Dame Cathedral in the background, and photos of the Seine River. Interestingly, one change made actually served the sense of the movie well – in the book, and on-stage, when Javert finally commits suicide, it is with his hanging himself in the sewers. In the movie, they had him falling off a very high ledge of a building into the Seine. I had no problem with any of the cosmetics of the movie, but this one I especially did like.

At the end of the movie, which lasts 2-1/2 hours, we see Marius and Cosette finding her “father” inside the huge cathedral, and we see Anne Hathaway’s Fantine with him in spirit. And as Hugh as Jean Valjean sings the last verses of the last song – “to love another person is to love the face of God” – he dies, and Cosette and Marius weep. It was very sad, and my friend asked me for a tissue because she was crying (I wept several times because seeing the music as well as hearing it is much more emotional), and we see him walk up to Colm Wilkinson’s “God”.

I realize I spoke of everyone except Amanda Seyfried who played Cosette, and Samantha Banks (Barks) as Eponine. Both women were excellent in their parts. I was at first not so sure about Amanda Seyfried until I got her out of my head as the character in Mamma Mia, and let her actually be the lovely, somewhat shy, Cosette, and Samantha, who I am pretty sure I have seen in another musical, and whose last name I am not sure of since the Internet spells her name Banks, but it was listed as Barks in the cast list, and Barks is probably the real spelling – but I don’t know – was a good Eponine. She looks a lot like the actress who played her in the 25th anniversary of Les Mis, the play, but that is not the name that actress was given. So I don’t know if she is the same person.

Anyway, the movie is well worth its price, I loved it, I am hoping maybe to get back to it before it goes away, and I will be buying the DVD of it when it is released.

And to add a final shout-out to the movie, at the very end, we see the people in the end, all the dead and alive ones, standing on the barrier, in the streets, and on the rooftops of Paris, singing the anthem “Tomorrow Comes (Do you hear the people sing)” in unison, and there must have been about 25,000 extras singing.

One note on the music. I thought probably the actors sang their individual songs on tape, which were added to the sound track, because I wasn’t sure they were professional enough to sing their individual songs on the same platform as two or three or even up to seven or eight people singing different songs all at the same time. Those who have seen the plays know what I’m talking about. But one of my friends, Bill, who he and his wife are the ones who invited me to go with them, saw one of those entertainment shows with Hugh Jackman being interviewed about the movie, and he said that they all individually had mics attached and listening gadgets in their ears, like musicians do on stage these days, and that they sang as they were being filmed, live, and they could hear themselves well enough to be able to stay on key, on note, and on lyrics. It was a beautiful job, and I finally heard a lot of lyrics I had not been able to hear in the tapes I made.

It was an experience to never be forgotten, and I walk around singing the songs in my head all the time.

Check it out.

Carol Stepp
Austin, TX

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About carolstepp

Music is about the most important thing in my life, and I follow a large number of musicians, particularly Irish, Scots, Classical, Crossovers of any of these. I was writing a blog about Celtic Thunder regularly on MySpace, and now I have left them after a year, and will start writing my blogs here. I am 70, retired, living on Social Security, and have a lot of social network fans.
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One Response to Les Miserables the Movie – Worthy of Praise

  1. Bill says:

    Very nice review Carol. I believe you captured the essence of the movie and your experience with the play helped paint a more complete picture. Nancy and I had a great time as I’m sure Joyce and Bill did. Take care and see you at the movies.
    Bill P.

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