A partial victory, and one buoyed by some outstanding surprise turns.
Daniel Ross 2013
One of the unerring virtues of Tom Hooper’s film of the now-classic musical Les Misérables is that the blockbusting cast reportedly sang absolutely everything live, rather than opting for the crude mugging that miming and dubbing will always result in.
A virtue indeed, but one that turns this soundtrack, divorced from context, into an incomplete experience.
The much-loved tunes have become actors’ songs rather than singers’ songs. They’re lifted from the visual splendour that housed them and plonked quite unceremoniously together, with only one dimension of their performance to show.
However, that’s not a problem for every cast member. Much has already been made of Russell Crowe’s on-screen inadequacy as the maniacally determined and corrupted Javert, and at close quarters it’s even more noticeable.
Crowe can hold a tune, certainly, but his nasal bray and floundering vocal mannerisms are wildly distracting, and a huge part of why his performance in the film canters while others gallop.
In his opening number with Hugh Jackman, Look Down, he sounds tight-throated and nervous, rather than the alpha aggressor and dogged pursuer the character is supposed to be.
Other cast members fare far better. Hugh Jackman is a charged and committed Jean Valjean on record and weathers the transition to audio-only well; Anne Hathaway’s brittle and quite bonkers version of Fantine’s demise channels Sinead O'Connor and sounds wonderfully intense; and Eddie Redmayne’s winsome tenor is a splendid surprise as his Marius Pontmercy becomes more and more the dominant male.
And special mention must go to Samantha Barks (a veteran of the stage show), giving the tragic Eponine full service in a soaring, bucolic reading of On My Own.
Simply put, you can’t keep a good tune down – and thanks to Claude-Michel Schönberg’s bewilderingly tuneful songs that keep the plot in check, there’s much to enjoy in almost any passable recording of Les Misérables.
Bring Him Home, Red and Black, One Day More and the inescapable I Dreamed a Dream will be familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of modern musicals. But these treatments of them will potentially be difficult listening for anyone who doesn’t have the film playing in their head.
A partial victory then, and one buoyed by some outstanding surprise turns. But ultimately it’s the songs themselves that make this recording something more than a mere obligation.