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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

I Dreamed a Dream – A review of Les Misérables.

February 26, 2013
  Writer__Bartholomew Foley   From the moment you hear the overture blast and see the initial wide-angle shot in all its splendour, you know you’re in safe hands. Les Misérables – the long awaited and highly praised epic drama – is now in cinemas everywhere. Originally an 1862 Victor Hugo novel, the film emerges on…

 

Writer__Bartholomew Foley

 

From the moment you hear the overture blast and see the initial wide-angle shot in all its

splendour, you know you’re in safe hands. Les Misérables – the long awaited and highly

praised epic drama – is now in cinemas everywhere. Originally an 1862 Victor Hugo

novel, the film emerges on the back of the enormously successful and much loved stage

production, as director Tom Hooper attempts to translate this this captivating musical onto

the cinema screen.

 

Having seen the stage production and had a fair crack at the source material, I certainly had

a range of expectations and anticipations before entering the cinema. First and foremost

though, there are a number of performances that need to be mentioned. Hugh Jackman

is supremely disciplined in his role as Jean Valjean. While his emotional vigour is perhaps

milder than could have been explored, his own interpretation of the Herculean convict-

turned-businessmen is fraught with subtle charm. Anne Hathaway’s performance as

Fantine is enchanting and her epic monologue as the crestfallen and withering vagrant is

a true tour de force. Russell Crowe also performs admirably as Javert. Being the truculent

man that Crowe is so often perceived as, he is well cast as the righteous and distrusting

inspector. Some people have been rather sniffy about Crowe’s singing talent, and while such

criticism is not entirely unjustified, his ability to portray emotion as well as his general screen

presence is adept. Amanda Seyfried as Cosette is perhaps the pick of the singers and is

supported well by Eddie Redmayne’s solid performance as Marius Pontmercy. Special

mention should also be given for the casting of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham

Carter. This double-barrelled double-act uniquely portray the crooked and greedy quality of

the Thénardiers.

 

This production did, however, fail to establish a number of themes well played out in the

novel and stage production. While it would be harsh to overly criticise its divergence from

the overwhelming source material, some critique is certainly warranted. In previous stage

productions, the relationship of Valjean to Javert has been one of mirrored personality.

Each is yin to the other’s yang, leaving the viewer with the distinct feeling that they are two

halves of a whole – their existence and purpose intrinsically linked to one another. Such is

the nature of the film that this contrast is never fully established. That being said, Crowe and

Jackman aren’t without chemistry in their combination.

 

Tom Hooper’s production also fails to execute with full force the utter wretched and

unbearable poverty endured by the these destitute Parisian peasants. While we are inclined

to feel empathetic to the street folk and the dying youths on the barricade, their situation fails

to resonate as truly gruesome. The great virtue of the novel and its various stage outlets is

its ability to strike one with fear and pity at the ghastly quotidian horrors of existence, amidst

the encroaching winters of 19th Century France.

 

Director Tom Hooper has seemingly allowed each performer to bring their own individual

tone and nuance where possible, largely ensured by the production’s much lauded live vocal

recording. While this technique is nothing original, it does allow the actors to bring more

expressiveness and presence to each piece.

 

Of highest repute for this production though is certainly its music. Forget Lenin or Khomeini,

if you want to start a revolution, get yourself some Schönberg! The masterful tunes of

composer Claude-Michel Schönberg simply ooze beauty and vitality, and his ability to

encapsulate revolutionary fervour with his call to the barricades is simply magnificent.

Together with lyricists Nicholson, Boublil and Kretzmer, their creation is truly unique.

In opposition to the gruesome sledgehammer of reality that is Hugo’s novel, this production

will warm the cockles of your heart, and as Woody Allen says, there’s ‘Nothing like hot

cockles.’ This production does however come with a warning, so if you’re afraid of sniffling

and tear-jerked audience members or Cockney French youths, perhaps Les Misérables isn’t

for you.