KokkieH Reviews Les Misérables

Les Miserables CosetteI’m one of those people who would have a serious problem if you were to ask me what is my favourite book, author, song, composer, even genre.  My tastes are simply too broad and I like too many things.  However, if you ask me about my favourite movie I can answer in a heartbeat.  No, it’s not The Lord of the Rings trilogy or Narnia (though I’d give them a close second place).  It’s the 1998 film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush.  This movie was my first introduction to Hugo’s epic tale and, while I have yet to read the book, I believe it is the single most beautiful story ever written.  More about that another time.

I am also very familiar with the musical, having watched the 1995 recording of Les Misérables: The Dream Cast in Concert several times and listening to the tape until it left this world for a better place.  This is another area where I can easily tell you my favourite.  Les Misérables has second place, after Phantom of the Opera (in this case music trumps story).

When I heard the musical was being turned into a movie, I was simultaneously excited and apprehensive.

Hollywood is littered with movie-adaptations gone wrong (Harry Potter to name just five (the first two and the very last one was all right)).  I was especially concerned when the cast was revealed.  I have no problem with either Hugh Jackman or Anne Hathaway – I knew both could sing and act – but I have never been fond of Amanda Seyfried and I like only two of Russell Crowe’s films (guess which two).

Les Miserables PosterThe Wife and I watched the DVD last night (have I mentioned I live 150km from the nearest cinema and have to wait for most of the good movies to come out on DVD before I can see them?).  How was it?  Let me put it this way: by the second song I was already welling up (real men cry in movies, okay?) and my wife was a continuous stream of tears from Eponine’s death scene (should I have said spoiler alert?) until the final rendition of Do you hear the people sing?  Because Les Misérables is an incredibly emotional story about human suffering, love and grace and the music of Claude-Michel Schönberg along with the English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer only serves to emphasize this emotion.  Of course, some other stuff also helps.

And the other stuff is worth a mention.  The movie won an Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling and were nominated for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design.  Not having seen Lincoln or Anna Karenina, which won those categories respectively, I cannot say whether Les Misérables should rather have won, but the sets and the costumes were spectacular.  I have no personal experience of post-revolutionary Paris, but I reckon they did quite a good job portraying it.

I have no training in cinematography, so can’t really say anything about the direction, lighting, camera work and the like, but I was able to forget I was watching a movie, and for me that’s the point, so no complaints there.

For the most part the acting (and singing) was also good.  My fears about Seyfried were justified I’m afraid.  For me her high notes had a bit of a screechy quality and I’m almost certain they used auto-tuning to keep her on pitch.  I could be wrong, of course.  I am prejudiced regarding this particular actress.  Luckily she did not have that many songs.  Russell Crowe played the role of Javert pretty well, though his singing struck me as a little forced.  There’s nothing wrong with his voice.  I just don’t think he should consider a career change.

Les Miserables Master of the House
The Thenardiers

Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway’s performances were very good, as is attested to by the one’s Academy Award nomination and the other’s win.  Isabelle Allen was lovely as a young Cosette.  But the most inspired performance for me was Sacha Baron Cohen as Thénardier, the innkeeper.  In fact, Wifey didn’t want to believe me that it’s the same guy who portrays Ali G and Borat – she reckons he’s wasting his talent.  (Incidentally, his was the only character, in a story set in France, who actually had a French accent, which changed to Cockney mid-song.  Actually quite fitting as his character is first and foremost a conman.)  Taking the role opposite him as his wife, Helena Bonham Carter was also her usual, brilliant albeit scary, self.

Les Miserables Eponine

Of the other supporting actors I have nothing bad to say.  I do want to single out Samantha Barks who played the role of Éponine.  This relative newcomer has a beautiful voice and played her part so well that by the end of On my own I found myself rooting for her to end up with Marius rather than Cosette.  I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing her in future films.

All said, both my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed this film and it is currently topping my Christmas wish list, along with Terry Pratchett’s collection of essays coming out later this year.  In fact, it is taking a fair amount of self-control not to put the soundtrack on a continuous loop on the CD player and I think I’ll allow it to share the spot for my favourite movie with the 1998 version.

11 thoughts on “KokkieH Reviews Les Misérables

  1. The Insider and A Beautiful Mind?

    Great review. My wife and I also enjoyed the movie, even though it was longer than what we usually watch late night. Anne Hathaway’s performance was superb; she was simply the best in there, with Hugh Jackman in second place.

    I didn’t like Crowe’s singing. I liked Seyfried’s better, although I won’t completely rule out autotune. The supporting cast stood out, IMO, especially Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks. The latter actually gave so much life and personality to her character, to the point that she was stronger than Cosette, who IMO was nothing more than a pretty face. I also agree that Cohen’s performance was very likable, and was a welcome addition to the movie.

    I don’t know if you’ve seen the mini series starring Gérard Depardieu as Valjean and John Malkovich as Javert, but I also enjoyed that one.


    1. Some of my friends have said Hathaway ruined the song trough over-acting, but then we all know of the hate-Anne-Hathaway club 😉

      Not familiar with the mini series, no. I’ll see if I can find it.

      I remember when I was a kid there was an animated series, even translated into Afrikaans, but it was dreadfully boring and I couldn’t figure out what was actually going on. I don’t think this really translates as a children’s tale.


  2. I absolutely love the movie (watched it two times so far). When I first watched it, I had no idea whatsoever about the story. I knew that it was one of the greatest books ever written, but that was it.
    After watching the movie, I immediately wanted to read the book. So I got it, and read the first part, and a couple of chapters from the second. Then it got boring. I got the original version in french. Hugo adds a lot of useless descriptions. I still have more than 1200 pages to read, and that’s not gonna happen anytime soon. I gave up on it. I’m still planning to read it, but not anytime soon.


    1. I also started reading it a couple of years ago, but did not even get past the first part. I got the Penguin abridged version last year, but haven’t read it yet. The problem is first that the style of the novel is so much different than what we are used to (I’ve encountered the same problem with some of Dickens’s novels – particularly those that were originally serialised), and second a translation is always problematic. The author’s voice and the natural flow of the prose are almost always lost.


      1. To be honest, a lot of what I read didn’t make any sense. He uses words I never heard before, which makes it really hard to understand. And having a dictionary next to you all the time ruins the fun. I guess Les Miserables isn’t made for young readers. I’ll just have to wait until I’m older and give it another shot.


      2. It has nothing to do with age. The French he spoke 200 years ago is not the same as the French you speak today. Compare Shakespeare, or even Dickens to a modern English author and you’ll see the same thing. I’m sure you’ll be able to get a French abridgement. The more recent it’s publication, the more modern the language should be.


  3. I love everything about Les Miserables. It has always been my favorite musical and it has affected me in different ways at different times in my life. I think if you consider that the movie is more about telling the story than about high quality music (and I am no music snob) then it will be more appreciated. I loved that Helena Bonham Carter was in it and thought she was amazing. I see that you just posted about Doctor Who which is funny because I blogged this morning about Les Miserables and earlier this week about Doctor Who!
    Thanks for sharing and glad you and your wife enjoyed the movie – I loved it!


    1. Thanks for stopping by and for following. Helena Bonham Carter is amazing no matter what she does, it seems. I’ve never seen her in a film where I didn’t like her performance and she’s incredibly versatile. A fellow Whovian, heh? Guess I’ll have to check out that post.


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