I have something to admit. I’ve never seen Les Miserables in the west end. Yes, I have seen it on stage. Twice in fact. Two fantastically brilliant school productions from schools well known for their incredible productions- one featuring a revolving stage, and the other Eastenders Joey Branning as Jean Valjean (he was blimmin’ good). I’ve watched the 10th and 25th anniversary productions, the former on video and the most recent on DVD, numerous times. So perhaps I’m not in a good position to argue which is better…although perhaps after you hear my view you’ll allow me just this once.
I must begin by saying how fantastic I think it is that Les Miserables has been turned into a film, bringing thousands of new fans to a quite incredible show and also hopefully drawing them into the world of the musical.
I must also congratulate the cast (On singing LIVE for starters. No sarcasm there. It’s not like that’s what every single west end performer does every day but- I digress) for their powerful and honest performances. I don’t think I can ever listen to ‘I dreamed a dream’ again without bawling my eyes out, sung by Hathaway or not. Hugh Jackman is a strong Valjean, and even Russell Crowe’s growling, sorry, SINGING is acceptable because of his fantastic acting and formidable presence that makes him so suited to Javert. Samantha whatshername is forgettable, but then again the poor lass only appears halfway through the story and gets killed off so quickly it’s hard to remember her. Her big number ‘On my Own’, normally in my opinion a much nicer and heart-wrenching song than the overheard ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, is unfortunately ignored and forgotten, overshadowed by Hathaway’s painful, painful potrayal of Fantine from earlier in the film. The rest of the cast are good, well sung and well suited to their roles.
It is not the cast I have a problem with.
It is not the show I have a problem with.
I can’t even say I don’t think the show should have been made into a film because after the success it’s had this would be a silly thing to say, also the film is a masterpiece. It is a wonderful piece of cinema and it deserves the acclaim that has been so thrown upon it.
It is the unending depression and sadness that I felt, during and after seeing it that I have a huge problem with. Which kind of leads me onto contradicting myself when I say that I don’t think it should have been made into a film.
Okay, I shouldn’t have seen the film would probably be more fair.
But back to the show. Now, Les Miserables isn’t known as a happy musical. There are NO kick lines, no jazz hands, and no american accents. There isn’t even any random bursting into song as the whole thing is sung. Yes, the whole entire thing. (Try telling this to your musical detesting boyfriend as the opening credits start and wait for the reaction).
However, the story of redemption pulls you through. The group numbers do as well. Master of the House is GREAT fun, and even ‘One day more’, whilst not the cheeriest song in the world, evokes feelings of excitement and pride that make sure the audience end the first half on their feet, whooping and clapping.
This is where the film falls down. Fine, the opening scene is depressing. I can’t think of anything cheery about 19th century slaves either. Okay, Fantine ACTUALLY having her hair hacked off is upsetting, and the less said about those lost teeth the better. But what about scenes and songs like ‘Lovely Ladies?’. Okay so if you’ve only seen the film you’re probably thinking, how could this song about prostitutes ever be cheery? Perhaps cheery is the wrong word. In the film by ‘Lovely Ladies’, I was looking for a knife. In the show, this is an almost upbeat, humorous number. You can see your mate Jenny from drama school (or french if like my case it’s a school production), tarting herself up and being a bit silly with the rest of the chorus girls. In the film; it’s anorexic, malnourished looking prostitutes with bad skin and missing teeth. Not that they should have looked pretty and nice, that would have been unrealistic. It was just the first in a long line of characters and songs that normally save the theatre audience from topping themselves, being forced into the harsh reality of film that turned them from almost jolly chorus numbers to slit your wrists depressing.
Master of the House fell flat on it’s head, I was longing for it to end. Sacha Baron Cohen did a good turn as Thernadier- he was not to blame! The song is made for live theatre, made for cavorting around the stage and being silly. It becomes boring when seen on film, who cares if you stole his hat? Everything looks a lot easier on the camera and a lot less impressive.
It was One Day More that confirmed my belief that Les Miserables should have been kept to the stage. Here is a rousing finale, a chance for the whole cast to join on stage and sing about tomorrow and the plans that lay ahead. In the film, here is a detached scene where it all gets a bit confusing with who’s singing what and which character is the most important.
Les Miserables is still a fantastic story, and I hope the film encourages many more people to go and see the real deal, live on stage. Let’s just hope that other producers will think more carefully before adapting other modern musicals into films. (Yes yes I know that musicals always used to be films, but quite often they were films first and besides this is another time and era we are thinking of there…) I mean, Wicked as a musical? The whole climax of the first half with her flying would be about as interesting as a Dalek hovering in Doctor Who.
Something a little bit funny if you found all those Les Mis adverts as annoying as me: