The use of close up, single filming added something to the conveyance of emotion from the actors, while the great scope of cinema for outdoor scenes increased the sense of scale from the stage production. It must be said that, although as much a musical production as ever, the emphasis was clearly more on acting than singing. This works for the screen, I think, but it does lose a certain something.
Jean Valjean - Ably portrayed, though the focus on acting above singing was I think more in evidence here than all but one other characters. The protagonist was introduced in a setting unfamiliar to those attending the stage production, but one which worked well with the opening piece and also offered an elegant hook to demonstrate Valjean’s strength.
The man’s various moments of conflict and turmoil were not only retained but, in some ways, enhanced in this medium. Hugh Jackman’s subtle portrayal of emotion in his face complimented its declaration in song in a manner that entirely assuaged the concerns that I had had going in.
Javert - Russel Crowe’s performance, in my opinion, would have been equally welcome on stage as on screen. His voice and bearing are strong enough to carry the character in any setting. It must also be noted that that character seems to have undergone a slight softening for the purpose of one scene.
Following the death of Gavroche and the defeat of the rebels, Javert finds the small boy’s body among the dead. Removing a medal from his own uniform and awarding this now-posthumous accolade to the boy illustrates part of the turmoil of turning opinion for the character. His absolute certainty seems to falter and give way to sympathy and, perhaps, respect for those he has long abhorred.
Fantine - Cinema seems to have really helped here. Changes in her circumstances which are hard to clearly portray in rapid succession on stage are illustrated clearly on screen as Fantine falls entirely from grace. Her fate as a prostitute is
more clear here. Anne Hathaway was superb.
Thénardier - Perhaps more than any other character, Thénardier illustrates the difference between stage and screen. Sacha Baron Cohen is undeniably a character actor, although he demonstrates an ability to carry a song as well. I can’t fault the choice for this role as Thénardier functions as comic relief (a necessary element in such a heartbreaking show), yet there was a certain incongruity. Alone of all actors in the film, Cohen effects an accent. It’s not a bad thing, it has comic value appropriate to the character, but it did jar at first. That said, the character’s villainy in later scenes is clear.
What seemed to me on stage the ultimate victory of the Thénardiers is mollified as they are ejected from, I infer, the wedding reception of Cosette and Marius.
Madame Thénardier - It’s been a point of some controversy, I am aware, that in the stage production Madame Thénardier seems contemptuous of her husband at a time when, in the original book, she adores him unquestioningly. In the cinematic version there is a greater sense that her mockery of her husband is in fun and used to mask their cooperation in swindling their patrons. As for Helena Bonham Carter, I consider her performance to be perfect.
Éponine - What can one say? Her character endures tragedy in poetic beauty. A true friend to Marius and a heroine in many ways. Her story is a rock to which other elements of the story can be anchored. Her portrayal by Samantha Barks, who also plays the character on stage, adds to that solidity and lends extra credibility to the film as a whole.
Young Éponine is seen far more than on stage. It appears that her father is keen to pass on his nefarious skills to his daughter. However, as we expect from the stage, she is a better woman.
Gavroche - A startlingly good choice in Daniel Huttlestone who carries the role with the strength one would expect of one far his senior. I was somewhat disappointed at the reduction of his part, having had at least one song cut short. However, the scene of the death of Gavroche could not, I believe, have been better executed. The later poignant presence of his body and Javert’s interaction therewith was superb.
Cosette - Another rock of musical narrative. Amanda Seyfried shows the young woman to suspect things beyond what Valjean had wanted her to know of him, and to truly love him as a father. Young Cosette remains a heartbreaking ghost of a child, with her haunting song of dreams.
Marius - I don’t have much to say. Eddie Redmayne played the boy well, but I’ve always felt that he’s more of a plot device than anything else.
Enjolras - I found him a more sympathetic character on screen than on stage. I had previously had the impression of him as an arrogant young man who placed his ideals above all else. Here, however, he appears a more thoughtful and sincere leader of the revolution whose actions speak as well as his words. Kudos to Aaron Tveit.
Of the film’s finale I must say that, although certainly grand in scale and spectacle, I felt that it spoke less directly to the audience than its stage counterpart. Still, it at once broke and warmed the heart.
All in all I am very pleased to have seen the screen adaptation of Les Misérables with every area of production, direction and the myriad other elements executed superbly. I would gladly return to it, just as I would to the production on the London stage.