A haunting, beautiful and powerful adaptation
An ominous soundtrack begins. In the midst of a storm of howling winds and lashing rain, a giant ship rises up from the turbulent waters. Behind it, rows and rows of men, bound by chains and shackles haul on ropes. The camera then pans in on one of the men: clothes torn, face gaunt and eyes black as coal. He begins to sing.
This is the opening scene of Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) Les Miserables. Following on from the huge success of the stage musical, first seen in 1985 at the Barbican Theatre in London and seen by over 60 million people in 42 countries, the film is a beautiful, haunting and powerful adaptation. Hooper’s direction is very particular, incredibly realist and true to the original production.
Set in 19th Century France, against the backdrop of the French Revolution, Les miserables is the ultimate story of ‘broken dreams, unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption.’ http://www.lesmis.com
The story follows convict Jean Valjean’s (Hugh Jackman) plight to make a better life for himself, escaping the chains of slavery and the shadow of ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe).
Hugh Jackman is outstanding as the tortured and beaten Valjean who vows to escape his restraints and gain vengeance on Javert. As the opening scene begins, and the camera pans in, Jackman is barely recognisable. He sings beautifully and with a passion that makes his emotions ours too.
Crowe projects a powerful performance as the ruthless Javert, obsessed and tortured with his power over Valjean. We first see Javert in the opening scenes, when the ship is being hauled in from the storm by the slaves. As he stands looking down on these men, unaffected by the elements, we immediately get a sense of his power and dominance over the city. Crowe’s singing voice is powerful and a constant within Valjean’s world.
Anne Hathaway is compelling in her performance as Fantine. With a total of 30 minutes on screen, she manages to keep us enthralled with her story as we watch her cruelly cast out from the factory where she works to support her child and forced into a life of prostitution and illness. The moment when Fantine’s beautiful, long hair is cut (which actually occurred live in front of the cameras) and she begins to sing ‘I dreamed a dream’ is one of the most powerful and emotional scenes in cinema history. Hathaway’s voice is beautiful, her depiction of this character truly haunting.
Isabelle Allen is brilliant as the young Cosette, daughter of Fantine, who is forced to live with innkeepers (Sasha Baren Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) while her mother struggles to earn a living to keep her. Allen’s talent as both an actress and a singer is incredible and she interacts seamlessly with the other actors and actresses throughout her performance.
Sasha baren Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter work in harmony together (as the innkeepers who exploit Cosette and pick pocket their guests) to create the comedy element of the film, without which it would be extremely dark.
Amanda Seyfried is the grown up Cosette who falls in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne). Seyfried and Redmayne work perfectly on screen as two young people deeply in love but torn apart by circumstances. Marius (Redmayne) plays his part well as a young revolutionist preparing to make stand against the Jarvet’s of the country, while Cosette is hopelessly lost, forced to follow Valjean from place to place to escape his fate.
Eponine is played by Samantha Barks of BBC 1 talent search show I’d do anything. Barks has experience of playing the role in the West End, and takes her talent to the big screen here in her portrayal of Eponine as Marius’ revolutionist friend who is deeply in love with him. Learning of her unrequited love, she struggles to help her friend find his true love, Cosette. Bark’s solo of ‘on my own’ set in the rainy streets of Paris, is both beautiful and emotional.
One of the most exciting things about this film is the fact that Hooper has managed to retain the musical essence. Aside from the opening scene, all the actors sang live during filming. They were fitted with ear pieces to enable them to hear music played behind the scenes by a live band and sing their parts naturally to camera. In several of the scenes where a large group of actors are singing, such as the poor on the streets of Paris or revolutionist scenes, the effect was so powerful it appeared to be live theatre. Close up camera shots also had this effect, giving you the opportunity to shareevery emotion with the character as if they were talking or singing to you personally.
This Les Miserables production involved 2200 costumes for many different characters such as the street workers, the slaves and the rich and the flamboyant. Paco Delgada was the costumer designer for the film and has been nominated for an Oscar for his innovative designs. His wonderful creations added to the actors performances in creating a very realist and theatrical production.
Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables is a film adaptation unlike any other. With an outstanding cast, live music and some incredibly moving performances, this story will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.
AJ Griffiths, January 2013
Written and directed by Richard Curtis
Clever, funny and beautifully poignant
Richard Curtis is celebrated for his authentically British films, achieving previous acclaim for ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral,’ ‘Notting Hill’ and ‘Love Actually’. In his latest production he explores the complexity of human relationships with a uniquely charming and humorous story. A romantic comedy with time travel sounds risky. But it works. The characters are beautifully observed, the scenery inspiring (the film was shot in London and Cornwall) and script well written. In fact some of the lead characters lines are quite poetic. There are also some very potent moments which seem to dwell on the inevitability of life.
Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young man, struggling to adjust to life beyond his eccentric family and their Cornish home. Too tall, too thin, too orange. His father’s revelation that the men in their family can time travel offers him the chance to fix his life. But with his gift and a new life in the city, comes a host of difficult decisions and he soon realises that even time travel can’t fix life’s bigger problems.
Tim is a loveable character who shares his father’s (Bill Nighy) dry wit and good nature. The bond between them is immediately evident and this becomes the chief focus for much of the film. Nighy plays the father role with ease, soft spoken and humorous, his love for his family is evident.
‘Kit Kat’ Tim’s bohemian sister (played by Lydia Wilson), with her ‘Elfin eyes’ and ‘eternally bare feet’ seems unconcerned of the harsh realities of life, moving from job to job and settling for a toxic boyfriend. But problems lurk underneath her calm, spaced-out exterior.
Tom Hollander plays Tim’s dad’s playwright friend who Tim stays with in London. Bad tempered, foul mouthed and alcoholic, he proves a challenge to live with.
Uncle Desmond (played by Richard Cordery) provides the comic interlude during the more dramatic scenes. Scatty and forgetful, he spends most of the film unaware of the events unfolding around him. But his lines are beautifully placed and raise a smile in otherwise sad circumstances.
Mary (Rachel McAdams) is the shy, self conscious book reader, who Tim literally chases through time to meet. Putting others before himself, he misses out on opportunities for his own happiness, to a point where it’s almost too late. His effort to amend countless bad impressions and misunderstandings results in hilarious consequences. McAdams and Gleeson have a beautiful chemistry together.
The character interaction, as with all of Curtis’ films, is the key focus of the film. The mixture of known and unknown actors works well. The scenes are original and authentic, such as the dining in the dark experience where Tim first meets Mary. Also the wedding scene where guests become victim to typically British weather, and flee the church to the dramatic sounds of IL Mundo. This actually produced tears of laughter amongst the audience.
The soundtrack continues the British theme and includes a lot of 80’s/90’s music such as The cure ‘Friday I’m in Love,’ Sugarbabes ‘Push the Button’ and The Killers ‘Mr Bright Side’. But there are also some original songs such as Ellie Golding’s ‘How long will I love you’ and a special version of ‘The Luckiest’ by Ben folds.
Curits has, once again, given us a uniquely British feel good film, with laughter, tears and some magical moments. The audience will be challenged not to leave the cinema feeling uplifted and inspired.