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The Les Miserables Thread

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Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
I love Les Miserables and am on a quest to watch all of the filmed versions, so I thought I would make a thread to share my progress and discuss the merits of different versions.

Spoilers abound!

(Spoiler summary: it's les mis, almost everybody dies).

Les Miserables is a novel by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862 (30 years after the rebellion described in the latter part of the novel). It tells the story of Jean Valjean, released on parole from prison for theft, and his journey towards redemption whilst being pursued by Javert, an officer of the law. It also takes in Fantine, a factory worker who has to resort to prostitution after she is sacked; her daughter Cosette, who is adopted by Valjean after her death; the Thenardiers, initially an innkeeper and his wife who mistreat Cosette; Marius, a young student with whom Cosette later falls in love and his student friends who are organising an anti-monarchist rebellion. It's a story of humanity, redemption, sacrifice and love.

One of the things that I like about Les Miserables is the ensemble of characters, it gives so many opportunities for different angles, different ways in to the story. It is, of course, Jean Valjean's story, but I appreciate the adaptations that also allow for characters other than Valjean, Marius and Cosette – where Fantine is more than her death, where Javert is not merely a mindless force for evil, where Les Amis are given time enough for us to care about their rebellion and their deaths.

According to Wikipedia there are a lot of different filmed versions of the story for film and TV. Some of the ones listed here are only adaptations of single scenes or characters. There are also filmed concerts of the musical. I'm mostly interested in full length films that cover the whole novel but might expand my search if there are any recommendations otherwise.

Please share your thoughts about your favourite versions, or any aspects of the story or characters you think were done well in one particular version. Do you have a preferred Valjean? Who is the best Javert? Who gets the best death scene?




Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Les Miserables (1958)


upload pic

This is probably my favourtie adaptation. It's fairly faithful to the book, which may be why I like it and some reviewers have found it dull. Perhaps its faithfulness is to the detriment of cinematic innovation, but overall I think it looks really good (especially in comparison with some lower-budget looking versions). I like the colours and the sets are good quality (and, being the 1950s, free from cgi embellishment).

Highlights of this version:

-Jean Gabin as Jean Valjean. As much as I love all the minor characters, Les Miserables without a good Valjean is a non-starter.
-Valjean escaping from the inn with Cosette, this was a really tense sequence.
-Eponine (Sylvia Monfort). I liked her in this version. I liked the inclusion of interactions between her and Cosette, even though it's an embellishment on the source material I thought it was a nice touch and added something to both characters as they're played here.
-The existence of minor characters. It's a small thing, but just that characters like Azelma and Combeferre appear and are referred to by name, rather than being excised to focus more on Marius.
-The end of the rebellion and the deaths of Eponine, Gavroche, Jean Prouvaire, Enjolras and Grantaire are done well. The execution of Jean Prouvaire particularly is not usually included in adaptations. Grantaire joins Enjolras just before his death in the cafe (see also the 2012 musical movie) and Gavroche dies singing a cheeky song (possibly one of the inspirations for turning Les Miserable into a musical in the first place. The composers of the original concept album said they were inspired by the Artful Dodger in the musical Oliver! which came out just a few years after this film). Gavroche and Eponine are placed side-by-side (see also the 2012 musical movie, again).

Lowlights:

-The casting of Enjolras – Serge Reggiani is far too old
-The battle scenes. While I appreciate the retreat to the cafe, the sawing of the stairs and the throwing of the bottles etc, the actual barricade battle scenes aren't the most exciting.




Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Les Miserables (2000 TV)


I don't think there's a subtitled version of this. There's a truncated, dubbed version, which is terrible, and for some time it was so bad I didn't even want to seek out a fuller version but I did eventually find and watch one on youtube, although there weren't English subtitles. My French isn't good enough to understand all of the dialogue, but I know the story well enough to follow the scenes.

It is generally well made and well paced (although with some odd camera angles – see also the 2012 version if weird angles are your thing). I appreciate that it takes its time, for the most part.

I didn't really like Gerard Depardieu as Jean Valjean. This is a bit of a stumbling block as Valjean is basically the backbone of the film. A lot of the characters seemed miscast, actually. Like they were just putting famous actors of the time into roles regardless of whether they were best suited to them. Depardieu seems to play Valjean like he's in love with his daughter which is creepy and weird and not at all in the spirit of the novel and frankly sort of ruins the whole adaptation.

I'm on the fence about John Malkovich as Javert. He plays it very coolly – preferable to David Oyelowo in the 2018 series - but is it too cool? He is also the least sneaky spy in the history of France, skulking around the barricades in his top hat and long coat. I feel like his death owes a lot, visually, to the 1958 version.

Goth Eponine's death scene is good, but she seems to fall in love with Marius rather quickly, and Gavroche seems to take over some of her role which is odd. I liked Marius in this, though, he's more well developed than he sometimes is and they kept in the bit where he threatens to blow up the barricade. Enjolras also seems to take over some of Courfeyrac's role, apparently here he's Marius's roommate. The series spends a good hour on the Gorbeau House part of the novel, which is my least favourite part. And yet doesn't manage to find time for the fall of the barricade and the death of Enjolras. Valjean escapes with Marius and the rebellion is instantly forgotten by all characters.

The ending is very drawn out. Which it is in the book, to be fair, but here there's no real mystery that Valjean is the one who saved Marius so it's a bit of a drag.




Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Les Miserables (2012)


This is the filmed version of the musical. There seem to be, broadly, three kind of opinions on this: people either hate it, because they hate musicals; love it, because they love musicals; or love the musical but think the film doesn't do it justice.

I am firmly in this third camp.

I love the stage musical. In fact, I watched it again this week, in London. I think it does such a good job of presenting the main story, characters and themes of the novel in this different format. I think the songs are great and although I found it weird at first because the whole thing is sung through, the more familiar I am with it, the more I love it.

The 2012 movie version is mixed. I find I do hold it in some affection, because it is the only filmed version of the musical and it's just good to see it realised on screen; there are some things they got very right. It has (almost) all of the songs and characters I love. I do rewatch parts of it. But there are parts that I just cringe and think they wasted the opportunity to make it better. I think time has shown that Tom Hooper is not a great director by any means.


The good:

-Anne Hathaway's Fantine. OK, she sings 'I Dreamed a Dream' like there's an Oscar just off camera, but, well, there actually was an Oscar so maybe that was the right choice
- Aaron Tveit is pretty much the ideal Enjolras.
-I like that they cast established stage performers in small roles like Colm Wilkinson (the original stage Valjean) as the bishop, Frances Ruffelle (the original Eponine) appears briefly and Hadley Fraser (who has played various roles on stage) appears as the guardsman
-Some of the casting more generally – Eponine (good singer), Gavroche (good death scene!), Cosette, Marius (he's more of an actor than a singer, but I thought acted it well)
-The costuming, hair and make up etc.
-Even though they're barely mentioned by name in the musical, the film puts in little details of Les Amis such as Joly looking at his tongue in the mirror which since many version omit them entirely, was a nice touch to add a little depth to it
-The death of Enjolras (and Grantaire) – in the old version of the stage musical with the revolving stage, Enjolras falls of the barricade as he's killed and it revolves so you see him hanging there – the film sort of amalgamated that with his death from the book (see also the 1958 version) so Grantaire shows up to die beside him (which is a touching moment in the book and works well with the rising music of the musical, although I don't know why the guard wait instead of just shooting) and then he hangs out of the window once shot
-Javert walking among the aftermath of the barricade, Gavroche and Eponine lying next to each other (the musical never relaly acknowledges they are related but this was a nice touch. Again, see also the 1958 version)
- The sets are partially good, and the elephant is there, although some of it is so obviously cgi that it's distracting


The bad:

-The live singing. It was the wrong choice for the actors' voices and the audience's ears. Even great singers can't keep it up for sixteen takes so why?
I don't really care for Hugh Jackman as Valjean. He's OK, but only OK.
The Thenardiers are supposed to be big and cartoonish on stage, a little like pantomime villains, but I felt that needed to be toned down for a movie version with a lot of close-ups, not turned up.
- I do understand why they wanted name actors rather than musical theatre performers. But when it is literally all singing all the time I would have thought singing ability would have been higher up the casting director's priority list.
The new song. It adds nothing, either musically or thematically and its inclusion means that other key parts of established songs are missed out. For example, Grantaire's solo verse of Drink With Me. All of the little 'counterpoint' sections of songs which give a different perspective, like this verse and Madame Thenardier's verse of Master of the House (also changed in this version to make it seem like she doesn't mean it) are some of my favourite parts of the musical. Some of Javert's final song is cut, too (although that might not have been for time reasons...) as well as 'damn their warnings, damn their lies' etc etc
The close ups. So many close ups. Many of them just when you want the film to show you more of this world, to give a more expansive view than is possible on the stage, it zooms in and narrows it down further.
Some of the sets also don't help with this. The barricade looks like a pile of chairs. Which falls quickly. And the cgi is at times too noticeable.
The weird angles. I'm not sure what they were supposed to add.
The Santa sex thing. What? Why?

The ugly:

-Russell Crowe's singing (it needed a whole section to itself)


So many close ups



Sorry if I'm rude but I'm right
The French movies from 1925 and 1934 are both masterpieces. Haven't seen any other adaptation.
__________________
Look, I'm not judging you - after all, I'm posting here myself, but maybe, just maybe, if you spent less time here and more time watching films, maybe, and I stress, maybe your taste would be of some value. Just a thought, ya know.



The trick is not minding
There’s a little known 1982 version directed by Robert Hossein, which was nominated for multiple Cesar awards (Frances equivalent to the Oscar).

Clause Lelouch directed a 1995 version starring Belmondo, as well.

I’ve so far only seen the 1998 version with Liam Neeson, and the 2012 version with Hugh Jackman.

I’d like to see the other, especially the versions Mr Minio has mentioned.



Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
This one is supposed to be a great film : https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1019959..._=nv_sr_srsg_7

But it's not a direct remake. It's set in modern day and has elements of Victor Hugo in it. It's high up my watchlist
I think there's a lot that would work well in a modern version. I'll add that one to my list.



I’m starting to wonder if I am the only one who doesn’t have a problem with Crowe’s singing. Les Miserables is one of the few non-Hedwig live action musicals I can stand. I always see complaints about it but I thought he sounded fine. Not great, but fine.

Then again, I enjoy his music and have seen him in concert so there is that.



Sorry if I'm rude but I'm right
Turning the humanistic masterpiece that Les Miserables is into a musical sounds like an evil idea in and of itself. But I haven't experienced any of the musical versions so I will withhold my thoughts until I do.



I don't know if it was good but Crowe's singing wasn't train wreck enough for me to call it memorable.



Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
I’m starting to wonder if I am the only one who doesn’t have a problem with Crowe’s singing. Les Miserables is one of the few non-Hedwig live action musicals I can stand. I always see complaints about it but I thought he sounded fine. Not great, but fine.

Then again, I enjoy his music and have seen him in concert so there is that.
I have no doubt that he can sing, but 'can sing' and can sing musical theatre especially when it's all those bits that aren't really songs, just sung dialogue well enough to carry a lead role in a musical are not the same.

See also Nick Jonas in the 25th anniversary concert.

I definitely think Crowe has the presence for Javert, though, and would have been great casting in a 'straight' non-musical version.



I tried to watch the Hugh Jackman version a couple of years ago and turned it off after about 15 minutes. I also tried to watch the Nick Jonas anniversary concert version and also turned it off after about 15 minutes. Really don't understand all the love of this musical and this is coming from a true musical lover as anyone who has skimmed my review thread can attest.



Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
I tried to watch the Hugh Jackman version a couple of years ago and turned it off after about 15 minutes. I also tried to watch the Nick Jonas anniversary concert version and also turned it off after about 15 minutes. Really don't understand all the love of this musical and this is coming from a true musical lover as anyone who has skimmed my review thread can attest.
It certainly wasn't an instant love for me, it was more of a grower. That said, I really don't think you can judge it (or anything else) on 15 minutes.



Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Les Miserables (1935)

Directed by Richard Boleslawski

One of the shortest versions, at 1 hour and 48 minutes, this necessarily boils the scope of the movie down to just the story of Jean Valjean and his pursuit by Javert. A lot of the minor characters don't appear at all and it's only tangentially interested in the rebellion or the themes of liberte and fraternite that are a big part of the 1958 version. But the themes it is interested in – personal redemption, faith, living a good life - it conveys really quite well. It focuses in a lot more on the religious aspect of Valjean's redemption than a lot of the later versions with an emphasis on love as charity, kindness and giving.

The prologue sets up the scope of the film with its choice of quote:

"So long as there exists in this world that we call civilized, a system whereby men and women, even after they have paid the penalty of the law and expiated their offences in full, are hounded and persecuted wherever they go - this story will not have been told in vain."

As a film on its own merits it is good and stands up alongside classics of the era. I sometimes think that looking back, book adaptations don't always stay popular, especially when they are superceded by newer versions. This came out the same year as A Tale of Two Cities which makes for an interesting double bill of French civil unrest. Nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography (cinematography is good), although not for acting, even though Frederic March and Charles Laughton are both very good as Valjean and Javert (Laughton was nominated for Mutiny on the Bounty). These performances are the heart of the film and well worth watching it for.


On the other hand, historical accuracy goes out of the window. Hays Code means no reference to prostitution which robs Fantine's story of its pathos (and reality). The rebellion and the reasons for it are butchered completely – Marius even says they are not revolutionaries! Eponine as some kind of secretary was an oddity.


Some imdb trivia: Florence Eldridge, who plays Fantine, was Frederic March's real life wife.




Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
For anyone who is interested in the musical, I found an interesting video comparing the different musical recordings:




It certainly wasn't an instant love for me, it was more of a grower. That said, I really don't think you can judge it (or anything else) on 15 minutes.
Yeah, you're probably right and I do plan to give it another go at some point.