Much of the criticism I have heard about Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables is that there is too much singing. Really? Of course there is singing, that is the fundamental point of a musical. ‘But they don’t talk very much’, I overheard two people discussing. Again yes, that is what happens in a musical, only serving to further confirm my belief that the 60 million people who know and love the stage show will savour every last note of the movie while others may leave perplexed, confused or, dare I say it, bored.
Tom Hooper’s novel approach to the filming itself left me less wholly convinced than I had expected. By having the actors singing live to camera every take, he adeptly captured the raw emotions at play during the film and allowed them to vary their approach to each line rather than having to make their decisions weeks prior to filming taking place. In some scenes this was extremely effective, creating a tangible frailty in the characters that simply cannot be demonstrated so beautifully on stage where actors have a need to project their voices and belt out the big notes. In this way, on some occasions it was refreshing to experience a new take on some of the classic songs but in some instances, such as the opening, this new approach meant that some of the emotional gravitas and overall impression was lost in background noise. Conversely I did feel that the heightened sensitivity to the voices in general and better diction meant that less lines were lost than would be on stage. This was particularly prevalent in comedic scenes where I uncovered jokes and innuendos that I have never heard before despite being one of those fans that can sing along to almost every song.
The essence of film allows for certain effects, qualities and approaches that are fundamentally impossible with the restrictions of live stage performance. This allowed for scenes that have no place in the theatre to have extraordinary power on film, especially those that dealt with crowd scenes or the journeying of Jean Valjean demonstrating a passing of time and a sense of place. The sense of liberty that was taken in presenting time helped to demonstrate the extended lapse of time in Valjean’s initial journey and transformation, and the constant uprooting of him and Cosette. Being a diehard lover of the stage show, what is the first act on stage seemed to take much longer to cover on film but was done in a more self-contained manner. This expanding and condensing of time had the most severe effect on Samantha Barks’ Eponine as the altering in the order of the songs meant that her part seemed to be brutally cut and left me feeling emotionally detached towards her even during her most heart wrenching songs which I was disappointed by.
Hooper’s cinematography is worthy of praise. The sweeping shots of Paris are beautiful and give phenomenal sense of the background against which the rivalry between Javert and Valjean is enacted. Colours are clearly of primary importance (excuse the pun) and clear journeys are presented by the colour of a character’s costume and the light through which they are filmed. Anne Hathaway’s Fantine is the starkest example of this; starting with demure blues and pinks, transgressing through to harsh reds to the purest of white in the closing scene. Paco Delgado’s vision is exquisite and impressive given the sheer scale of the production, and the detail in his design is certainly very deserving of his Oscar nomination.
It is very rare that the Brits show their appreciation, but the rapturous applause which issued from the audience as the credits began to roll is testament to the success of the film overall. This in conjunction with the chorus of sniffles, tears and embarrassed wiping of eyes are credit to the power of Hooper’s storytelling, which can transcend the arguments of musical or not, and are really what the medium of film is all about.