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CD REVIEW: Les Misérables Original Motion Picture Highlights Soundtrack

Book/lyrics/music: Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel-Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer

Reviewer: Lucy Thackray


Released on 11 January in the UK, rarely has a musical film prompted as much hype, criticism and discussion as theLes Misérables movie before even hitting our screens. With an odd sequence of a UK premiere in December, followed by a USA release on Christmas Day, along with a deluge of preview videos and behind-the-scenes featurettes from the movie’s marketing team, many feel they have been pelted with snippets of the movie long before actually getting to see the whole product. This film didn’t exactly play hard to get. As such, listening to the soundtrack fans will already have a familiarity with the way the show was sung and filmed on the movie set (mostly live-recorded). This is a very differentLes Misérables than the rousing, emotional powerhouse we’ve seen on stage – predictably, star casting and no dubbing along take all of the vocals down a notch, and the orchestra has no choice but to follow.

For the truly accomplished singers in the cast, this does not make too much difference. Hugh Jackman as redeemed convict Jean Valjean has an excellent tone for the part and really shines in some numbers, though his dedication to the screen acting part of the job certainly makes more of his delivery staccato, spoken or breathy and fans of the score will miss the soaring notes that characterise the rôle. Broadway and TV star Aaron Tveit as revolution leader Enjolras contributes some of the most musicality, as does West End darling Samantha Barks as Eponine, though the muted staging of On My Own still manages to knock some of the air out of it – without seeing the full film, one might predict that some of the cheekiness and warmth has been taken out of the stage version of the lovelorn waif. Eddie Redmayne is the surprise vocalist, with a lovely tenor voice and good instincts as to when to let emotion or dialogue take over from the music.

Predictably, some of the cast struggle with the platform of singing live – Russell Crowe (a baffling piece of casting to many already) lacks any of the vocal depth, gravitas and strength for the part of Valjean’s pursuer Inspector Javert. His delivery of some beautiful writing is off-beat, strained and passionless – all at once raspy and weedy – and, quite frankly, insults the material. Amanda Seyfried takes the opportunity to have featured a truly beautiful soprano singing live in favour of a wispy, over-vibratoed performance not much exceeding that of her miniature, 10-year-old Isabelle Allen as the young Cosette. Helena Bonham-Carter is, aurally, a limp and tuneless Madame Thernadier (she did warn us all in 2007’s Sweeney Todd), while Anne Hathaway surprises with a warm tone and tidal waves of emotion as the tragic Fantine. The ensemble, made up largely of stage alumni and other professionals, is on-point but also struggle to give a fluent, musical sound in the medium of live recording.

Casting aside, it does seem odd to have missed Do You Hear the People Sing? Who Am I and A Little Fall of Rain from a ‘highlights’ album of such a well known show, but to be fair the Les Mis score is all killer, no filler. New track Suddenly is perfectly inoffensive, but doesn’t add much to the story while taking up valuable screen time – you can’t help but think it was simply added to make buying a movie soundtrack (on top of, potentially, an original cast, 10th anniversary cast and 25th anniversary cast) worthwhile. The orchestra is vast, subtle and sensitive, but hardly allowed to let loose with the muted vocals they had to underscore after filming. A focus on stark realism and emotive acting, by some actors without the resources to do all this and sing the material beautifully, makes this soundtrack a bit of a damp squib. Tom Hooper has certainly conducted a notable experiment in film history, but many fans will wish it hadn’t been with their belovedLes Misérables.

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