Les Misery

“Many were applauding, some were actually crying.” But the only tears JAMES MITCHELL wept during this “weak and insubstantial” film were tears of despair.

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I have to admit that there are times when I think I might be wrong. It doesn’t happen often and when it does, I usually come to my senses pretty quickly.

The last time this occurred was when I was suffering Tom Hooper’s awful film adaptation of Les Misérables. I had read the enthusiastic reviews in the national newspapers. More pertinently, Alex Kemp writing in The Tab, had claimed that he was awed and impressed.  Awed AND impressed. Really?

So, I had to consider that Alex and the lesser critics had found something impressive and awe-inspiring in the Film that I may have missed. I duly considered and concluded that there wasn’t (and clearly I hadn’t).

Alex admits that he hasn’t seen the magnificent stage adaptation of the musical, and that his only previous  “encounters with musicals [were] Grease, Mary Poppins and Mamma Mia”. That may go some way to explain Alex’s aberration, but it’s unlikely that the newspaper critics were similarly deprived.

Let’s start with the singing. Russell Crowe’s singing ability is indeed limited (and that’s putting it kindly). Apparently, in the 1980’s he recorded a song under the name “Russ le Roq”, and even joined a rock band (see Wikipedia). However, for good reason, his singing career never took off and Crowe has instead been lauded for his acting abilities. However, poor though he is, Crowe is by no means the worst musical offender in this Film. He can be forgiven because he makes no attempt to pretend that he is any good. Think of Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady and you’ll get the idea.

Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, I did expect to sing well. He’s an acclaimed West End musical theatre performer and received plaudits for his portrayal of Curly in Oklahoma!. Like other cinema-goers, his strained delivery of “Bring Him Home” did reduce me to tears. Unfortunately, these were tears of despair. In case you’re not sure how the song should sound Alex, please listen to Colm Wilkinson’s version (below).

I’m afraid to say that Amanda Seyfried, an accomplished singer-songwriter and model, also sounded shrill throughout. Considering her musical pedigree, I was disappointed with her performance – until I realized that Les Misérables to Mamma Mia is what Henry IV Pt. II is to the Christmas Panto.

Anne Hathaway is equally unconvincing. Apparently we are supposed to be impressed that Ms Hathaway managed to record the iconic “I Dreamed a Dream” in a single take. Fine – it’s impressive – but who goes to a Film to be impressed with an actor’s professionalism? I want to be immersed. Her weepy, flat delivery of the film’s most rousing ballad was most uninspiring.

Indeed it was, in my view, a mistake to select a cast of A-List actors for a musical film and expect them to make a decent fist of singing. However, if it was felt that the film needed the big box office names, then for God’s sake put them in a studio and edit the shit out of them. That’s what auto-tune is for.

Sasha Baron Cohen was dreadfully miscast. His performance was typically self-indulgent to the extent that it seemed that he had been given free reign with no directorial control. As for Helena Bonham Carter, she is a one-trick pony. The only major acting awards she’s won have been for her portrayals of the Queen Mother and Enid Blyton, where she was decidedly normal – but she still doesn’t seem to get the hint.

Generally, the show did not translate well onto film. The barricade scenes were simply laughable; the ghost scenes were ridiculous and out of place; and the relationship between Valjean and Javert lacked all tension. On the stage, it all works. As a Film, it appears weak and insubstantial. In the end, I could quite understand my mother’s incredulity that “it all started with a loaf of bread”. Hooper succeeded in making the central plotline seem preposterous.

Thank goodness for Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks, who provided some spark and managed to win the film a somewhat generous one star from me. Eddie Redmayne is a rare thing in this film. A genuinely talented all-rounder. He can both sing and act. Barks is sublime as Eponine – but this is hardly surprising, given that she spent three years playing this part in the West End. If only they had taken on the entire cast.

When the lights came up, I peered round the packed cinema, amazed by the enthusiastic reception from the theatre audience. Many were applauding, some were actually crying. How something that poor and devoid of substance could reduce anyone to tears is beyond me. It was like Diana’s funeral all over again. I’ve honestly been more affected by some episodes of Glee.

If you, like Alex, have not yet seen the stage show, then I implore you to go and see it. Failing that, if you want to see the same plot without music, acted well, and directed in a way that makes better sense, watch the excellent 1998 version featuring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush.

This monstrosity of a film does not deserve to be compared with either.