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les miz: my very subjective review

Stuart absolutely loves-loves-loves the soundtrack to the London Les Misérables musical, so we trotted off through the snow to the cinema to watch the new film version. He loved it so much that he came back and put the soundtrack back on, then played it again this morning and was swooning so romantically around the house that I ditched the work plan and went on a winter wonderland walk to Greenwich with him to run around the film set. SO much of the film was shot here at the Royal Naval College, it almost made me laugh how many different angles they used to make the same courtyard look like different locations. Here we are, demonstrating about where the barricade stood:

We had way too much fun taking these Les Miz photos. But what did I think of the film? I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to see it, and writer-illustrator Liz Pichon tweeted back, See my review if you want to save yourself TWO HOURS of your life! Here it is:

Some similar comments:

They were SO right about the crying; I didn't just cry once at the end, I cried about SIX TIMES, and I could hear people all around me sniffling and sobbing. But then, right at the end, the audience let out an almighty cheer.

**Warning: contains film spoilers if you don't know the story**

The cheer was rather moving, because they'd sounded like noisy yobs when the film started, and as soon as it began, they settled right down. In fact, no one could have heard ANYTHING over the booming opening music. I actually had to cover my ears as it was rather painful. But it was such a different experience to watching the musical at the theatre. I'd seen it twice: once at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle when I was a teenager, and about ten years ago in London. The Seattle version was energetic, but the London cast looked like they'd done it a thousand times (which they had) and they flopped tiredly about the stage. But the worst thing was that, both times, I had affordable tickets and was sitting high up in the nosebleed section, so the whole thing looked like a flea circus way down there below. This time it was SUCH a relief to be able to see people's faces, subtleties of expression, and man, that huge, listing ship coming into the dock was an impressive start.

(Oh, hold on, it was much bigger than this ship. They didn't film the dock parts in Greenwich; I think those were shot at Chatham Dockyard.

Because of this, I found the film so much more of an involving, enjoyable experience than going to the theatre. And while I know it was long - 158 minutes - I liked not having the story broken up by an interval. (I realise this appreciation may change as I age and grow weak-bladdered.) At the theatre, it's so tedious having the lights come up, then deal with mundane little thoughts such as, Can I leave my scarf on the seat? Are they going to have plastic spoons or those horrible little wooden paddles that feel like they'll leave splinters on my tongue? And if the show's any good, I don't feel like making pointless chit-chat for twenty minutes, I want to KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

The actors' voices weren't perfect. I missed Javert's booming bass; Russell Crowe can sing low, but he can't do that trick where the singer holds the note and then lets it grow richer with a bit of vibrato at the end. His notes just end. (And as my studio mate mentioned, he's always standing on a ledge when he delivers them, which I couldn't help but constantly notice after she pointed it out.) But I found being able to see him up close and relate to his character made up for him not being a top-notch singer. Even better, the singers were able to act and sing together, they weren't bound to miming something they'd had to record months earlier in the studio. That gave them freedom to give their singing lots of nuances, and boy, could that Jean Valjean be INTENSE. At the moment he's ripped up his parole papers and he's coming straight at you with Rasputin-like bloodshot eyes and a scraggly beard, singing for all he's worth, it's quite terrifying, in a good way. I'd never seen the guy who plays him - Hugh Jackman - which I really liked, because he came to me purely as Jean Valjean, no one else. (I recently saw Cloud Atlas and loved it, but having Tom Hanks play the lead was very distracting for awhile.) And Jackman could sing very well. He was all-around brilliant, actually.

One of the courtyard angles you'll have seen A LOT of in the film

It's funny, when I was a teenager and transfixed by seemingly endless unrequited love, I liked those forlorn songs by Fantine and Eponine. I'm not so wild about them now, and I find Cosette's love songs even more syrupy. But they have their place. My favourite song now is The Confrontation, just after Fantine dies and Javert thinks he's captured Valjean. I love the intensity of it, and the way both blokes are arguing hard for their cases but totally not listening to each other. Javert's part is unrelenting, the voice of law and justice, and Valjean provides a great counterpoint with his passionate protestations for mercy, so he can find Fantine's child and prevent her from dying in a gutter somewhere. I just listened to a recording of the film soundtrack, and to be honest, it doesn't sound that great, not half as good as the Original London Cast musical recording. But I thought it sounded good during the film because I was so caught up in the drama of the confrontation. So I guess the film tricked me a bit, but I don't mind that.

Stuart's confrontation with the stern face of the law

Even though I was slightly distracted by Anne Hathaway playing Fantine, she did a great job, and it was unusual to hear a song done in one take. In the musical, the Lovely Ladies prostitute scene is quite comedic, whereas in the film, it's so gritty that it actually does make you think about how few choices people had back then.

I loved Eddie Redmayne playing Marius; he had an appropriately Toby-Stephens-style public schoolboy look, and while he and Cosette (played by Amanda Seyfried) were both young and silly, it was rather charming on him. Some rather nasty reviewer called Seyfried 'a hankerchief with eyes', which was unfortunately rather true, but I guess that's her role; she's supposed to be a completely sheltered, naive girl. But I liked Redmayne's version of Empty Chairs and Empty Tables, I really did get the sense of someone who's suddenly forced to become an adult by having tragedy thrust on him. The bit I liked with Éponine (played by Samantha Barks) was when she knew she'd lost any chance with Marius and had deciced to go, suicidally, into battle. Watching her bind her chest to look like a boy was quite moving, saying goodbye to her femininity.

The Thénardiers were funny, I didn't mind recognising them as actors because they're the pantomime dames, the farcical elements. I got a giggle from watching Sacha Baron Cohen be very silly, and Helena Bonham-Carter was the obvious choice for the Sweeney Todd role. (They even had a tribute meat grinder! And was there a Fargo reference in there, too?) Oh, and I loved Aaron Tveit playing Enjolras, the lead student in the uprising. Partly because he looked an awful lot like my writer-illustrator friend Alex Milway, even his way of talking and cajoling people into getting excited about something. So I couldn't help but being agitated, knowing that he'd be soon shot, thinking Please don't die, Alex! Please don't die!

But my absolute favourite part of the film was getting to see Greenwich ('my' Greenwich) used as the set piece. The place where I take my coffee and draw. (In fact, I notice I've tagged Greenwich in 69 blog posts and I don't always remember to tag.) It's like seeing a friend in a big Hollywood film, you can't help but squee.

I can see why a lot of people wouldn't like the film, or be bored by it; it's terribly earnest, and full of Christian ideals, and very traditional as a musical. If you're looking for highbrow, postmodern sophistication, don't bother. But if you can sit back and just go with it, I'd say it's three hours well spent. The final scene is wonderfully moving, it's hard not to get caught up in watching Valjean leave behind his body and step out into the new light of day. Go ahead, have a good therapeutic sob.

Oh gosh, Stuart's playing the soundtrack AGAIN. And he's announced that he's going to go back to the cinema and see it a second time this week. There are very few films I see twice at the cinema, and I don't think I would have made two trips to this one my own... but I don't mind going along with him. It's nice when he gets excited about stuff.

Here's a video if you want to find out more about how the film was made:

Direct YouTube link



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 20th, 2013 07:58 pm (UTC)
It's weird how in the English-speaking world, it seems like Les Misérables is above all a musical, while in France it's still a novel and I don't think many people have heard of the musical. I don't think that movie is out yet over here.
Jan. 20th, 2013 08:24 pm (UTC)
So true! In fact, I bought these books on the Left Bank in Paris when I was a teenager, because it seemed like a terribly sophisticated thing to do at the time, but I've still never read more than the first few pages:

I've read the other books because they're much easier since I already know them in English. :p ...I really ought to splurge on an English version of Les Misérables, my French (as you know) is rubbish.
Jan. 20th, 2013 08:01 pm (UTC)
I don't know & haven't seen Les Mis, but loving your snowy Greenwich pics.
Jan. 20th, 2013 08:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Selina! Gosh, it was just yesterday we were sitting out on the grassy lawn...!
Jan. 20th, 2013 08:14 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen the film - so I haven't read your review yet but great photos! I auditioned for Cameron Macintosh - ha! I was complimented on my song choice - didn't stand a chance. I agree, Stuart - I too love, love, love the score
Jan. 20th, 2013 08:26 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, that's fabulous you auditioned! Wish I could've listened in! What did you sing?
Jan. 20th, 2013 08:43 pm (UTC)
The House Is Haunted by Gracie Fields! http://archive.org/details/GracieFields-141-150
Jan. 20th, 2013 09:00 pm (UTC)
Oh, excellent! I don't know that one, just listening now! :)
Jan. 20th, 2013 08:50 pm (UTC)
Yup, I do the squealing too. It's so exciting to see old 'friends' up on the big screen :)
Jan. 20th, 2013 09:03 pm (UTC)
Hee hee! I've seen The Painted Hall used so many times recently!
Alison Mutton
Jan. 21st, 2013 09:15 am (UTC)
I haven't yet seen the film, as no one wants to go with me, and I don't feel like going to sob through a film all on my own. =P I'll hire it when it comes out on dvd.
At the moment I'm slogging my way through the book; I read the first part about 5 years ago, but was disgusted to find that the library had stuck barcodes and labels over *every* part that said "Part One"... so I reached the end, only to discover that it really wasn't, and the library, in it's infinite wisdom, didn't have part two. Anyone complaining about the length of the film should read the book, THEN they'll know the meaning of 'long'! I think Victor Hugo must have had writers ADHD, because he's continually going "Now, Jean Valjean was living *here*, and oh, look at it, it's so run down, but it *used* to look like this, and now, right when I'm writing, it's all gone because it's a train station, trains are horrible, but anyway, Jean Valjean was living here, and ooooh, look at all the trees over the road, they're so old, and so are the little old ladies sitting under them, and oh, it's sad, those little old ladies are no more, but yes, Jean Valjean was living here –".... and it's about that point I realise I've read four chapters and still haven't actually got anywhere, and start to lose the will to live a bit, so I go and read something else for a while. =P I'll finish it though, it's a matter of principle! The nineteen chapters on why France didn't really lose Waterloo were pretty hilarious though....

I love all your snow pictures, it looks so lovely and cool, and completely timeless. =)
Jan. 21st, 2013 09:19 am (UTC)
Ahahaha! I'd never heard that about Hugo's writing, so funny! And that's rotten of the library for covering up that bit of vital info. I do sometimes wonder, at certain bookshops and libraries, if the people even look at the book when they slap on various stickers. I've had a sticker put right over the main character's face on the front cover and though....'HEYYYYY'.
Jan. 21st, 2013 09:38 am (UTC)
Haha, that's exactly it, and then he does another couple of paragraphs about the people who used to live in this house before Jean Valjean moved in !

Also I wonder how the whole digression about Parisian slang translates in English...
Feb. 19th, 2013 10:35 am (UTC)
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( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah McIntyre

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