I’ve been excited about this for a long time.
Les Miserables. When I was 14, I was cast as “Ensemble / Factory Girl 2 / Woman on Barricade” in our school’s production – something my friends and I remain obsessed with to this very day. Me and a schoolfriend still give each other something with Stars all over it (that being the title of Javert’s solo, for ye unitiated few) for birthdays each year. I’m not sure what it was about that production, but it was something pretty special.
I’ve seen it on stage 3 times since then, and the first time my drama teacher genuinely started taking bets on “when Sally will start crying” (I thought I’d hold out til Bring Him Home, but it turned out to be the VERY OPENING CHORDS…). That gives you an idea of how emotionally involved I get in this story!
I know I’ve said before that I don’t like too much hype around films, and I’ll admit I was worried that after the amount of Oscar / Bafta / Golden Globes buzz this has had in the last couple of weeks, the thing itself would be a let down.
… It isn’t.
This film… it’s incredible. It’s different to the show, but if anything, that’s what makes it so good. The story comes across so much better. The show for me is very much about the songs and the performance, but on film it’s different – I understood it so much more, having seen it in this way. Because a film is storytelling.
I don’t know if it’s because in the theatre I’m usually sat so far up in the Gods that you can hardly see the actors’ faces. In comparison, Tom Hooper’s style is to be very up-close. I’d read about the audition process, where he literally got a chair and sat right in front of the actors face while they were singing. I always felt a theatre performance would, on paper, feel more direct, because it’s live, but this felt like something else. It’s more than the closeness – I think it would be too easy to say that the emotion gets across better because you can see the better. There are some incredible performances in this film.
Weirdly, it was the characters that I usually skip over on stage that I loved the most on screen. I’m not usually that fussed by Fantine, or by Marius, or the students, who for me kind of fade into a confusingly-political background mush. On stage I’m a real romantic – it’s the heroic Valjean, the heartbreaking Eponine that get me right there. But here… seriously, if Anne Hathaway doesn’t get an Oscar for this there’s going to be trouble. Watching her sing I Dreamed A Dream was mind blowing. That song has never made me feel like that before; I’ve never seen it – felt it – sung like that before. You understand how sad, desperate, broken she is, you understand the extent of her fall. Thanks to a certain talent show contestant, the whole world knows that song, but only now I get it. The same with Eddie Redmayne (brilliant, by the way) and Empty Chairs at Empty Tables – another song that has never choked me up on stage but had me reaching for the tissues last night.
Having said that, the moment Eponine watches Marius as he first sees Cosette will always just break my heart. Samantha Barks was perfect. Every girl knows that feeling, has or has had a Marius, knows how it feels to love someone so completely who just has no idea. I know I did. Maybe that’s why I always loved Eponine so much.
To me the show has always been very much carried by Valjean. I’ve seen some fantastic Valjeans and some less so, and the difference has had a real impact on the overall perception of that show. It’s Valjean’s story on stage; here it’s much more equal, down to the individual students (who were fantastic). And I just loved the very end, when (spoiler alert) the vicar who resuced Valjean at the very start welcomes him back with open arms. That to me was a really nice touch.
Initially I found it hard to stop myself reacting when they sang different words to the score that – I don’t even care if this is lame – I still know off by heart. And other little things, like during the Valjean / Javert confrontation Valjean is armed with a stick, not a chair. Though I did notice a shot of a chair over Javert’s shoulder, which I took as a nod to that! And things like the convent, that aren’t in the show but I think might come from the book. But once you accept that it’s slightly different, and necessarily so, you can just fall in love with the story all over again. I know I did.
Please, please, find out what I’m talking about and see this film. I’m seeing it again in 2 weeks’ time. I can’t wait!