Let me start by saying that I'm not a huge fan of musicals, though, strangely, I tend to like them better in movie form than on stage. As a result, I've never seen Les Miserables on Broadway (though I live in New York City) so I had nothing to compare the film to. Fans of Les Mis, the show, were wild to see the movie, and the ones I know loved it. As a member of the Nominating Committee for the Screen Actors Guild, I was invited to the very first public viewing of the film. Eddie Redmayne, who plays Marius; Amanda Seyfried, Cosette; and Samantha Barks who plays Eponine, were there in the audience, seeing it for the very first time as well. Director Tom Hooper came out and introduced the film before it started, and afterward, he and Anne Hathaway joined the other actors for a Q&A with the audience. Therefore, I was watching with a certain heightened level of excitement, and perhaps was less critical than I would have been otherwise. The audience rose to a standing ovation after the film, and remained so as the actors came in to take their places for the chat. It was such a thrilling experience it wasn't until later that I really had a chance to analyze the picture. I'll start with the summary - so if you don't want to know what happens , skip the following paragraph.

I'm glad that (director Tom) Hooper allowed the singing to be a little less perfect so the acting could be more intense. For those that haven't read the novel by Victor Hugo, (and I highly recommend you do; it's better than any film or stage version could ever be) Les Miserables is the story of Jean Valjean, a man sentenced to 20 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread. After he's released, he breaks parole, which puts police Inspector Javert forever on his trail. Lying low, Valjean makes a good life for himself as the owner of a clothing factory. When one of his workers, Fantine, is unfairly fired by his foreman, and must resort to prostitution to support Cosette, her daughter, Valjean feels responsible and goes to save the tragic woman. It's too late, she's dying, but he vows to take Cosette as his own child and raise her as a lady, essentially buying her from scheming innkeepers Monsieur and Madame Thenadier, who use her as their servant. All this time he's pursued by Javert, who keeps adoptive father and daughter on the run. Once she's grown into a lovely young woman, Cosette meets a wealthy young man (Marius) and they fall in love, while Eponine, daughter of the Thenadiers, watches him slip away from her grasp - for she loves him too. All of this unfolds in the shadow of the French Revolution of 1848, and ends with Marius and Valjean in the midst of the cause, where the older man saves Marius' life and finally undoes Javert. Ultimately, he gives his blessing for Marius and Cosette to marry, while his own life breath fades.
If you're expecting the very best vocal performances in this version of Les Miserables, you may be disappointed. Many of us know by now that the singing was recorded live, accompanied by a pianist on set as Hooper was shooting, and the orchestral music was filled in later. This sometimes makes for some fairly raw vocals, though that doesn't matter much to me. I'm glad that Hooper allowed the singing to be a little less perfect so the acting could be more intense. I was extremely moved by Hathaway's Fantine and by Hugh Jackman's Jean Valjean. Both, though not the strongest singers, are extremely powerful in conveying the emotion of their roles. Russell Crowe as Javert I could take or leave. Yet two of my favorite performances were those of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as Madame and Monsieur Thenadier, the delightful comic relief. (Who knew Borat could sing?) They portray the parts with flawless timing - perfect roles for the two quirky actors, making me wish, in retrospect, that they'd gotten more recognition in terms of award nominations. I liked Seyfried as Cosette very much - she has a sweet high soprano that really suits the part, and Redmayne's Marius brings just the right touch to the romantic story line. Another of my favorites was Barks' Eponine. She is one of the few true musical-theater performers, by trade, in the cast, and brings a lovely pathos to her part that moved me to tears, mostly done while singing in the pouring rain - so extra kudos for that. The film is a long, and unless your husband is all atwitter about musicals and epic tales of love and tragedy, I wouldn't drag him through it. My husband liked it okay, but then he doesn't mind the occasional musical, and besides, he was so agog to be in the presence of the adorable Hathaway, that he had nothing to complain about. Watch it with your girlfriends instead and sob to your hearts' content. Les Miserables is a rewarding three hours spent.

Movie reviewed by Georgina Young-Ellis

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