Tragedy…Sacrifice…Redemption…Grace. I don’t think there is a story told that embodies the human condition nor reflects its salvation more than Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables; and Tom Hooper’s theatrical release of the Schonberg-Boublil musical more than delivers on it’s many fan’s expectations.
The story of Jean Valjean, a criminal rejected by society but restored by the faith of a Christian bishop who dared to call him ‘brother’ has been resonating in hearts for more than a hundred years. I myself have a personal affection for the story.
Back in 1996 a touring company of Les Miserables was coming to Hong Kong and a number of friends and I made plans to see it. Through a fortuitous twist of fate involving Tammy at a music store we became acquainted with Stig Rossen, the Danish singer who was playing Jean Valjean. Over the next two months that the show played in Hong Kong we shared meals and stories with Stig often on the themes of God, faith, and grace raised in Les Miz. One night in particular Stig, Martin (the actor who played Marius), and myself sat in Stig’s hotel room after a show and talked about God and life until the sun rose. It’s moments like these that make life special and another reason why Les Miserables holds a special place in my heart.
Well, back to the movie…
Let me start by saying now I think Anne Hatheway will get an Academy Award for her performance as Fantine!
And how do I know this?
Because every Academy member with a ballot in their hand will remember the tragic brilliance she conjured during her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream and then forget there are 4 other names on the ballot.
Despite my glowing review however, there were a couple minor shortcomings in the film. The trouble with casting A list actors like Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe is their well established personas mix too much with their on screen movie characters. I never quite felt I was watching Inspector Javert, so much as I was watching Russell Crowe playing Inspector Javert. On top of that Jackman and Crowe are “good” singers but they are not “great” singers.
Colm Wilkerson, the original Jean Valjean when Les Miz opened in 1985, had a cameo as the Bishop who shows compassion and mercy to Valjean at the beginning of the story. I couldn’t help but think there were moments while filming where Wilkerson pulled Jackman aside and said, “Son, THIS is how you do it.”
Singing wise it was the “second tier” cast of Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Samantha Barks as Eponine, and Aaron Tveit as Enjolras that really captured the DNA of the stage and brought it to the film. Topping it all off was the deliciously naughty streak brought to Monsieur and Madam Thernardier by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. In the stage play they tend to be more comic relief but in Hooper’s film a thread of evil is added that makes their roles that much more delightful to watch.
In the end though it is the story of God’s faithfulness, of redemption, and of grace that brought tears to my eyes. In fact, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the theater when Fantine arrives and ushers Valjean off to heaven and the newly resurrected defenders of the barricade close with singing:
Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the earth
there is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
and the sun will rise.
They will live again in freedom
in the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the ploughshare;
they will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
and all men will have their reward.
I will write more on these themes in an upcoming post but until then, get out and see Les Miserables and then comment back here about what you thought and your favorite scene!