I just saw the astonishing film adaptation of the Les Misérables musical that I’ve seen twice in the West End. The full effect of the musical is there, and it hits you like a hammer at the right times.
It is a far, far, colder man than I who will not cry at those times.
That said, this is not a perfect adaptation, the movie has some unexpected flaws. Spoilers ahead.
I did not see this coming, but there are no less than three places where positive female roles are downgraded. The bitchiness in the factory and in the Lovely Ladies sequence is still there of course.
In the stage version Drink With Me has a response verse from the ladies assisting at the barricades. This is when the ladies leave the barricades, with thanks from the students who choose to remain. This is a graceful. sweet, poignant scene replaced by showing the French women being somewhat cowardly as the barricades were falling. Not cool.
After the barricades have fallen there are two songs dealing with the grief, including the fabulous Turning which shows women dealing with grief as the world turns.
The opening is there as the shout out, but the superb chorus is just gone. Meanwhile Marius’ grief is fully expressed through Empty Chairs At Empty Tables.
Finally, Fantine’s sacrifice is not mentioned at all in Valjean’s last confession to Cosette. The line “Your mother gave her life for you, then gave you to my keeping” is replaced by another line expressing Cosette’s value to Valjean.
What the [expletive deleted]? Seriously, what the [expletive deleted]?
The Extra Songs and Scenes
Yes, there are several extra songs and scenes to provide bridging story.
These are often variations on the existing songs , but felt relatively weak to me. Some of the additional scenes felt weak as well.
However there was definitely an element in my reaction of “where did this come from, get to the good stuff already”. It is entirely possible that these scenes do actually work in the films favour, so mark this criticism as tentative for the moment. I may revise this opinion once I have it on blu-ray.
Balancing Valjean and Javert
There’s no question that Javert has always been a compelling character, but he needs to still be a secondary character.
Once Valjean has his epiphany, Valjean is the one who should dominate the stage or screen.
In several scenes I felt that Crowe’s Javert was stealing the show when he should not have.
In truth these are relatively minor criticisms of a film that still hits like a hammer. The core, the heart, the soul, of Les Misérables is there in full.
Anne Hathaway’s Fantine is astonishing, and Samantha Barks delivers a strong performance as Eponine. If those two roles were right, and they were, then Les Misérables was always going to work to some extent.
Toss in the amazing visuals, and this is a film I’m very glad to have seen.