I work in theatre, so have always found this medium emotional and effective, but I wasn't sure if it would translate to film. I'm still not sure if Tom Hooper's film is a great one, or if the amazing music is enough to please audiences. Although I don't mind 'sung-through' musicals, it would have had nice to have had a little more additional dialogue for us to connect to the characters and explain the French Revolution a bit more. I think it relies on audiences knowing the story and already loving the characters.
So to the cast. Hugh Jackman is outstanding and provided me with the first teary moment when he breaks down in church after being saved from arrest by the Bishop. He changes physically throughout the film and is completely believable as Jean Valjean, with an amazing singing performance. The other stand-out star is of course Anne Hathaway who becomes unrecognisable in her role as Fantine. The scene of her singing I Dreamed A Dream with cropped hair and a swollen, bruised face is an amazing piece of cinema - nobody seemed to move in the screening I was in, just completely transfixed, with lots of sniffing and blowing of noses once the song was over. Other highlights for me were Samantha Barks who is fantastic as Eponine and Aaron Tveit who plays Enjolras with attitude. Eddie Redmayne was a pleasant surprise, as in previous roles I have found him quite bland, but he brings real passion to his role of Marius. Amanda Seyfried also puts in a good performance and proves she can really sing. The only disappointment was Russell Crowe, who seems to play Javert very one-dimensionally and unfortunately his singing remains quite flat throughout the film. His scenes with Valjean don't seem to have the intensity they could have. I also didn't really find the 'light relief' of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thenardiers very funny, although the rest of the cinema were laughing away. I have always found their parts odd when the rest of the story is so intense and tragic. We have seen Helena Bonham Carter do these kind of roles so many times before and I have never found Sacha Baron Cohen funny (apart from in Madagascar!) It all felt a bit 'Sweeny Todd!'
Now the production. I wasn't entirely convinced by Tom Hooper's direction or the production design. A lot of the scenes looked too 'blue screen' and it also felt to me far too British to be a film about the French Revolution. The iconic and familiar English scenery of Greenwich (how many films are going to be made there?!) and Bath, plus the mainly British cast does not make the film authentic at all, especially the brilliant young boy who plays Gavroche, but sounds like he should be in Oliver! For me, the barricade scene still felt on quite a small stage, when they could have made it so much bigger and the fighting did not feel real or 'gritty' enough. The chance meeting between Marius and Cossette resulting in them falling in love was also far too brief and unbelievable, although A Heart Full of Love is beautifully done, with a butterfly stealing the scene flapping its wings in time to the music. The scenes for me were hit and miss, with One Day More being a particular disappointment with quick editing between characters making it have less of an impact.
The main success in this film lies in the wonderful cast who all have musical theatre backgrounds, The idea of having the actors sing live to a piano accompaniment in an ear piece gives them the freedom to interpret songs and have an orchestra play to their version. This provides some raw, wonderful performances, particularly from Jackman and Hathaway who both thoroughly deserve every award they are nominated for. There was a point in the film where I thought I couldn't take any more and didn't think I would get upset as I knew exactly what was coming, but the final scene just hits you halfway through, and although I found it hard at times to really care about the characters, the wonderful music is just so emotional and passionate and leaves you a sobbing mess, so I guess the music is the real star of this heartbreaking film.
Let me know what you thought of the film version and if you have read the mammonth novel by Victor Hugo.