The next year, I was sitting in my school library with friends and someone wondered aloud what book had not been checked out in the longest period of time. So I went up to the information desk and asked the librarian. She handed me a dewy decimal number on a slip if paper and pointed to a dimly lit section of the stacks. Turns out it was a dusty hard cover penguin classics copy of ... Les Miserables. It had last been read in 1971. So I checked it out, and set to reading it. All nearly 2,000 pages of it.
It is an incredibly powerful story. The two main characters each embody a different view of God. The former convict, Jean Valjean, representing the New Testament view of a forgiving loving God , while the police inspector Javert, being the Old Testament's fire and brimstone God who shall wreak wrath and vengeance upon the sinner.
Little did I realize at the time just how dangerous an age fourteen years old is to read something like Les Miserables. As a young man struggling to come to terms with my own complex relationship with faith, I found things in both characters I related to. I ended up keeping the book for most the rest of that year.
I remember standing outside the Theatre as I snapped this picture, wondering if a stage adaptation could possibly live up my expectations. Would the actors portray Hugo's characters the way I had heard them so clearly in my head when I read the book? I remember stumbling out of the theatre later that night, on an emotional high, convinced that the original Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) cast had somehow read my mind and brought my own images of the characters to life before my eyes.
It would be the start of a more than twenty five year love affair with this show. I would go on to see it on stage again nearly 20 times. Seeing it in Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, San Francisco, New York, Munich, Amsterdam, Seoul South Korea, and multiple times again here in London. So when the show's producer Cameron Macintosh announced there was finally going to be a film adaptation of the show, I was both excited and worried, very worried.
The transition from stage to screen historically has been problematic for many successful shows. For every, brilliant adaptation like "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Funny Girl", there is the sheer awfulness of a "Jesus Christ Superstar" and (ugh!) abominations like the film version of "Camelot". So I deliberately did not read reviews of the film before going to see it this evening.
As the lights dimmed at the movie theater I actually held my breath...
Film is a very different medium obviously so first of all lets be clear, this is not an adaptation of the stage show. It is an entirely new version of the Musical. The well publicized move to have the actors sing live on the set instead of to a pre-recorded track does give it a theater - feel though and adds a wonderful realism to the movie. Likewise, the overall look of the movie is darker, grittier and more realistic than the stage version. The mud, rain, grime and poverty of 19th century Paris is not left the imagination. It also feels much more intimate thanks to the use close up shots. So as odd it sounds the stage show actually feels "bigger" in scale than the film does.
Yet when all is said and done, the film works. But for very different reasons than the stage show.
|Hugh Jackman and Colm Wilkinson|
Sasha Baron-Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter get the job done as the Thenadiers, delivering the needed comic moments. Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried and Samantha Barks all deliver solid performances as the lovers Marius and Cossette, and the tragic Eponine . There is also the inspired casting choice of Colm Wilkinson, the original stage Jean Valjean in the role of the saintly Bishop who sets Valjean on the road to redemption.
The hands down, clear surprise in this cast in Anne Hathaway as Fantine. Her Oscar-nominated performance as the tragic mother of Cosette is quite simply stunning. It is little wonder they used snipits for the film's teaser trailer.
So my verdict? If you are going expecting an experience exactly like that of seeing the show on stage you will be disappointed. Film is not Theatre but the music of the show clearly transfers mediums with the same powerful emotional punch it packs live on Broadway or the West end. I thoroughly enjoyed the film version and left the cinema with the same emotions I did when seeing the show live on stage.
Is it everything I hoped it would be? No. But it certainly came close enough to have me want to go back and see it again, both on stage and on screen.