Firstly, it is important to note that I have seen the stage production a few times and I love the music so much that even hearing it online in Polish made me cry because of earlier performances.
I was a bit concerned about going to see a film which used mostly actors rather than singers as the song is the “thing” for me but my initial doubts were swept away by the end. Both Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway were stupendous in the acting part of the roles of Jean Valjean and Fantine. They both lost a considerable amount of weight for their characters when they were downtrodden and suffering. You can’t easily fake the clavicle and those top rib cage bones and it was very effective on the big screen. To watch some scenes in extreme close up as hair was chopped off or someone was experiencing some other traumatic moment was almost too much to bear.
One advantage that the film has over the stage performance is that the lyrics can be understood even better because what you think you hear is suddenly very clear as you can watch the mouths move to form the words. Another advantage is that the revolving stage and marching on the spot is no longer required as many of the scenes were shot on extended sets and on location so we see Jean Valjean climbing that mountain and Javert’s suicide is so awful that my hands immediately went to my mouth to cover up my shock. There are many heart stopping moments which were possible on the big screen – like almost losing a footing on a rooftop that worked much better in the cinema than it would have on stage.
So, what did I miss? Well I actually missed the marching on the spot and would actually have liked if one scene had referenced that but I suppose it would not have been in keeping with the rest of the film.
The musical performances ranged from acceptable to terrific and a special mention should go to Anne Hathaway and Samantha Barks who were outstanding in their roles of Fantine and Éponine. For me the emotional engagement always comes from the various characters’ sacrifices for other characters so I’m usually wiping away gentle tears at the Bishop giving Jean Valjean the candlesticks and sobbing by the end of the musical when Fantine comes back to take JV away with her. The counterpoint performances were as stirring as always. There was a nod to the stage production when Enjolras died and was sprawled backwards pretty much as it would happen on stage but in a different setting. The children were wonderful and of course by the end there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema.
One niggle was that everything was written in French on walls, doorways and letters but in the den of thieves overseen by Monsieur and Madame Thénardier (first time I’ve liked Sacha Baron Cohen in anything) the things they had stolen included “glasses” and “eyes” and the audience would certainly have been able to cope with working out what the French words for those meant.
Do I recommend it? Mais certainment! Will I see it again? Oui! Will it stop me going to see it on the stage? Non! Each production has its own strengths and the world is richer for this film.
Spontaneous applause all round!