Friday, 14 December 2018

Singing actors make the grade in epic musical tale

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BRITISH director Tom Hooper took on a mammoth task when he agreed to direct this latest film version of Victor Hugo’s classic novel.

Hooper has excellent credentials — he won Best Director Oscar for The King’s Speech in 2010 — but translating Cameron Mackintosh’s hugely successful musical to the big screen was never going to be easy. After all, there was that not inconsiderable hurdle of getting actors to sing. Convincingly.

According to early reviews of Les Misérables (12A) after its release in America last month, Hooper seems to have pulled off the not inconsiderable challenge with aplomb.

The film has already been nominated for four Golden Globe awards including Best Actor for leading man Hugh Jackman and Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway.

The stage musical has been seen by 60 million people and translated into 21 languages, and is still pulling in the crowds worldwide. One of the biggest coups of this movie production was to get the original musical writers, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, on board — they helped to script the film.

The film’s vocals were recorded live on set using a live piano accompaniment, fed to the actors through an ear-piece. A 70-piece orchestra filled in the gaps in post-production.

This was a departure for the production team, as normally soundtracks for musical films are produced in the studio and actors lip-synch, or mime, the words during the take. This method has been claimed as a world-first, and early reports indicate that it has worked well.

Anne Hathaway, who plays prostitute Fantine, has been praised for her rendition of one of the musical’s most famous songs, I Dreamed A Dream, with critics describing her performance variously as “angelic”, “volcanic” and “superb”.

For those who have never seen the musical, the story is set in 1832 at the time of the Paris Uprising.

Hugh Jackman takes the central role of former convict Jean Valjean, who was released from prison by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean becomes a factory owner and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. He discovers one of his factory workers Fantine is sending money to her illegitimate daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen) who lives with the unscrupulous Thénardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter).

When Fantine is dismissed by the foreman she turns in desperation to prostitution, and is arrested by Javert. Valjean intercedes, takes her to hospital, and after hearing her sorry tale, vows to the dying Fantine that he will care for her daughter. This is an epic story of poverty, love, broken dreams and redemption — and the endurance of the human spirit.

Lovers of the stage show will no doubt be queuing up to see this film as it opens at the Regal this weekend, but even those sceptical about musicals should give it a try. It will be worth the ticket price just to see Russell Crowe sing.

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