(Credit: AP Photo/Universal Pictures)
My friends, this is where I out myself as a middle-aged woman.
I am in love with Les Miserables. I have been since my piano teacher plonked an easy version of ‘On My Own’ in front of me, all of fifteen years ago. We’ve only seen it on stage once, but I know the soundtrack back to front. It’s a little embarrassing. But by heck you do not want to get between me and my Javert impression. I do ‘Stars’ best when I’ve got a head cold, but I’m basically ready to let it rip at any moment. And you should hear my ‘One Day More’, my goodness. It brings tears. Not usually for the right reasons.
So you’d forgive me for a tiny bit of fear as we went to the cinema last night to see Hugh Jackman et al. prancing around in sideburns. The original London cast have rich and satisfying voices: when Valjean and Javert have their confrontations it’s like Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart leapt out of their X-Men costumes and started duelling in song, rumbling bass to rumbling bass.
Not so many quicksilver voices in this film. Hugh Jackman is a little reedy at times – ‘Bring Him Home’ is so out of his register that my immediate thought was that he’d trapped his most personal part in a kitchen drawer by accident. I wanted them to bring back the Bishop from the first scene – Colm Wilkinson, Mr Quicksilver himself, who played the original Valjean – and have him sing that little number instead. And Russell Crowe sounds a little like he’s warbling the karaoke version to himself in his living room. He sings like a bear. A bear with tiny lung capacity, but lots of enthusiasm.
None of this matters, though – except for the aforementioned kitchen drawer incident – because the emotion hits you between the eyes before you’re ten minutes in. The camera can do that in a way theatre cannot: sailing high in the air to gasp at the spectacle, before diving in to watch the rain trembling in anguished fashion on someone’s eyelashes. In this sort of story, the rain does that a lot. Les Miserables is about second chances, rescued children, injustice, hollowed dreams, ignominious failure, love and sacrifice, ultimate redemption. All of which is so much more convincing and resonant in close-up (there were several moments that made much more sense when you could see the thought process behind them). A tale like this feeds off choked-up sobbing. It needs your heart to soar. If the emotion works, everything works. And so here, it works.
Jackman is completely convincing as the haunted ex-convict transformed by an act of mercy. Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried are quite lovely as Marius and Cosette (I had to close my eyes to better appreciate the last harmonies in ‘A Heart Full of Love’). Samantha Barks is a fierce and poignant Eponine. Russell Crowe…well, Russell Crowe can really ride a horse. And Anne Hathaway. Whenever I think about Anne Hathaway in this film, all of my thoughts turn into capital letters. ANNE HATHAWAY, you guys. That bitter, passionate song about a shattered life, sung six inches from an unforgiving camera lens. Oh gosh, ANNE HATHAWAY. She broke my heart. Give that woman an Oscar, quickly. And then let her eat something.
I cried, and ached for them, and wanted them to be happy, and so it worked. ‘To love another person is to see the face of God’, they sing at the end, as Valjean is beckoned through rosy light towards something better. And as I swallowed frantically and brushed popcorn out of my hair and wiped my eyes on my scarf, I felt it. Musicals can do that, sometimes. I still think Les Miserables does it best.