There are a lot of films coming out in 2012 that I just cannot wait to see. As a comic book-film geek, the upcoming The Amazing Spiderman, The Dark Knight Rises and of course, The Avengers have me fidgeting on the edge of my seat with anticipatory excitement, but as a musical theatre fan too, there’s nothing I’m looking forward to more than the film adaption of the London West End’s longest-running musical Les Miserables.
Everyone knows by now who has been cast in the principal character roles, but the recent release of images and footage of Hugh Jackman on set as Jean Valjean has caused the internet to explode with eager discussion between fans. With such a successful stage history behind Les Miserables, this film adaption has a lot to live up to and fans are going to be pointing the spotlight on it every step of the way. Much has been made already of the fact that Jackman appears without Valjean’s customary long locks in the early stages of his story. I’ve seen fans arguing over whether they approve or not and pondering the reasons why the film-makers have made that decision. There have to be differences between the musical and the film, otherwise there’s no point in going to the cinema in December 2012 – you might as well just head on down to the Queen’s Theatre now. We already know there is going to be dialogue introduced in comparison to the sung-through musical version and that original Les Miserables creative Claude-Michel Schonberg is contributing additional music and an entirely new song ‘Suddenly’ which, as Cameron Mackintosh explained, “beautifully explains what happens when Valjean takes Cosette from the inn and looks after her”.
The same thing happened in the case of the 2004 film adaption of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera: scenes were switched around; additional music included and costumes/sets re-imagined from what fans are used to seeing at Her Majesty’s Theatre. The prosthetics for the Phantom’s facial disfigurement left fans underwhelmed, but the biggest derision was aimed at the actors cast for the film, most notably Gerard Butler in the title role. Butler may be an outstanding actor, but his vocal abilities were not so appreciated. Considering he’s not a singer by profession, I don’t think he did too bad a job, but he certainly paled in comparison to previous stage Phantoms as John Owen-Johns and Ramin Karimloo, for example. Emmy Rossum as soprano Christine Daae was probably not the best person for the job either and Minnie Driver (Carlotta) didn’t even sing her own vocals – Patrick Wilson was the only one I felt came across well vocally and, surprise surprise, he is in fact a stage performer. I actually rather liked the Phantom film (although I know many didn’t), but I do have to admit that it would have been much improved with the addition of actors who could handle the musical part of it. This is where I feel the Les Miserables film is going to fare much better than Phantom did. They have a fantastic line-up of talent leading the cast, starting with Hugh Jackman of course. Most known by movie fans as Wolverine from the X-Men franchise, a lot of people were quick to judge as they weren’t aware of his extensive stage background. Jackman has a very strong voice and the little we heard of it in the footage of him tearing up the yellow ticket of leave in Valjean’s Soliloquy has surely quelled any doubts about his ability to handle the songs. Then you have others such as Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried, who have also previously proven that they have what it takes to tackle the challenge. There are two aspects of the Les Miserables film in particular though that I think are going to make the world of difference to the quality of the finished product, the first being the number of West End performers who have secured roles in it.
The casting of Samantha Barks as Eponine, a role she formerly played both in the West End and the Les Mis 25th Anniversary concert, is a very good move. Barks has a superb voice and was an extremely popular Eponine with fans of the London production – having already seen how amazing she was in the role, there are no doubts that she is going to be simply dazzling on the big screen. She may be the West End performer with the most high-profile role, but she is going to have a lot of very talented company with her. Original Valjean Colm Wilkinson is set to play the Bishop of Digne, with original Eponine Frances Ruffelle taking on ‘the most fabulous prostitute’ and Bertie Carvel playing Bamatabois. Other West End stars involved in filming include: Joseph Altin; Ashley Artus; John Barr; Gina Beck; Adebaya Bolaji; Alistair Brammer; Mary Cormack; Jacqui Dankworth; Stevee Davies; Killian Donnelly; Kerry Ellis; Daniel Evans; Alice Fearn; Fra Fee; Clare Foster; Hadley Fraser; Kelly-Anne Gower; Katie Hall; Linzi Hateley; Kerry Ingram; Mike Jibson; Alison Jiear; Alexia Khadime; Ryan Laskey; Sara Pelosi; Jonny Purchase; Adrian Scarborough; Katy Secombe; Caroline Sheen; Jos Slovick; Nancy Sullivan; Gabriel Vick; Hannah Waddingham; Gemma Wardle; Lynne Wilmot and Julia Worsley. We already know that these guys can both act and sing, and with the contributions they’ve made to musical theatre, and Les Mis itself already, they certainly deserve to be a part of the film and representing the industry. It also bodes well for the second game-changing aspect of the film – live singing. It was previously announced that all songs would be sung live on set whilst filming rather than pre-recorded in a studio, as is the norm for musical films. Director Tom Hooper felt this would ‘allow for more creative freedom’. It also ensures that there has to be a certain level of vocal ability from each actor involved, which ultimately means that the overall quality of the film is instantly given a pat on the back.
As with anything in life, I’m sure that the Les Mis film will have both its fans and detractors, but I do believe it will end up with more of the former. As more images and footage leaks out during the filming process, let’s just remember to hold off on judgement until its release though.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Wednesday 28th March 2012