Warning - If you have never, ever seen or read the story of Les Miserables, then this article contains spoilers!
I first fell in love with the music. I can’t remember where I first heard the songs, but I bought the complete recording of the whole show. When the song book came out, I was at the local music shop to buy it. For a long time all I did was sing along with the CD and wish I lived closer to London. There was a time when I knew this original recording off by heart.
Eventually, I got to see the West End production. By the time I saw it the likes of Michael Ball and Colm Wilkinson had moved on, but that was fine. In every performance I have seen over the years, outstanding actors have played the lead parts. But that first time was special. I sat on the edge of my seat for most of the first half. I was so immersed in the show I’d forgotten to settle back and make myself comfortable!
I bought the 10 year anniversary DVD and watched it over and over again. I got lucky and sang a couple of the songs on stage. I would have given my right arm to have taken part in the West End workshops they ran for a few years letting ordinary folk take part in a special production of the show. Money and timing were never right.
Have you guessed by now that this is my all time favourite show? (I’m a huge fan of musical theatre – as a teenager I would love to have made it my career.)
For years, they talked about turning Les Mis into a film. For years, nothing happened. And then, in early 2012 I heard the rumours that they’d cast the show. Then I heard they’d started filming it.
2012 was a year of anticipation for me. I couldn’t wait for the film to be released.
I watched and listened to many interviews from cast and crew, my excitement building. In the UK we had to wait until January 11th 2013, but I made sure I had my ticket booked for the opening night.
I’d seen the trailers and like many people, was concerned that it wouldn’t live up to the beloved stage version. So I attended the cinema on opening night with a mixture of anticipation and uncertainty.
My fears were unfounded. No, some of the singing isn’t theatre quality but the way it has been filmed draws the observer in to the raw emotion. Even if you sat in row A of the Stalls, I don’t think you would get the same emotional pull as you do with the film. The night I went to see it, the cinema was full and silent – in a way I’ve never heard silence before when watching a film. Everyone seemed as caught up in it as I was.
This is a story of love on so many levels. First we see the love a mother has for her child and the sacrifices she is prepared to make to give that child a life. After a determination never to go back to jail, we see in Valjean a love of God as he is given a chance at a decent life. He shows further determination to love Cosette as his own and redeem his sins in not protecting her mother. In Eponine we witness unrequited love for Marius as she lets the audience see into her heart. We witness her selfless love as she helps Marius and then gives her life at the barricades, and yet she seems so innocently happy as she dies in Marius’ arms. There is a purity in the love between Marius and Cosette, a hope of love everlasting. A freedom for Cosette that she has never known. And yet mixed up with this love, Cosette experiences heartbreak as her papa leaves without a word.
And then, we witness the ultimate love – that a parent seeks to protect their child’s memories by withholding the truth of his past. Not only that, in an unselfish act he saves the life of the man she loves to give her a future that he realises is not his to keep. I sense in Valjean a feeling that he doesn’t deserve to be loved for who he is now – Javert’s hatred has left its mark.
With the stage show I rejoiced in the beauty and strength of the music and singing. With the film I fell in love with the strength of the emotion that tugged at my heart.
This film is a must see, not once, but again and again. The day it comes out on DVD, I will be amongst the first to buy it. The nominations this film has received are well deserved. The awards it has won to-date are well-deserved. I would be very happy if any of my stories captured the heart in half the way that Les Miserables has – but maybe that’s the power of the visual and not the written word. I shall keep on trying though.
This article reflects my opinion on the film and I respect that it may not be the same as yours.