Squalor, sewers, Dickensian suffering, a splendor of operatic riches! If you are director Tom Hooper, how do you follow the drama of the multi-Oscar winning King's Speech? A film of one of the most beloved Broadway musical epics, Les Miserables, set in the days of the French Revolution a la Victor Hugo might not be the obvious choice. Then again, Hooper is a filmmaker who has challenged himself with every project. The John Adams series for HBO comes to mind. So a musical? Why not.
How will they keep us from singing in the aisles, asked one Les Mis devotee at a special screening last week. Never mind, the movie's star, Hugh Jackman, had well-wishers singing at a sumptuous afterparty at Porterhouse, a Peggy Siegal affair, saluting his onscreen ward, Amanda Seyfried, in a rousing "Happy Birthday." A chocolate cake with red candles made the rounds. Joan Collins, Anna Wintour, Lorraine Bracco, Carol Kane, James Lipton, Tony Danza, and many others joined in the singing with the cast: Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Sacha Baron Cohen. Anne Hathaway as Fantine in a heart-breaking role illustrates how far a young woman who loses her factory job can plummet in the food chain. On the streets now, having sold off hair and teeth, she is rouged to accommodate her new profession. The hair-cutting scene was real at her insistence. Singing to her death, Hathaway had the audience in tears and is thought by many to be a clear win for Best Supporting Actress.
Eddie Redmayne as Marius, the young revolutionary saved by Jean Valjean (Jackman) should make the Best Supporting Actor list. He was gallant in last year's My Week with Marilyn, and even more so singing "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," in memory of his fellow fighters. Redmayne said he had worked with a voice coach, as did other cast members, and wanted to do take after take insisting on just one more until they reached take 21. That last teary take made it into the film.
Seyfried was apologizing for her frail voice, appropriate to her character in my view, until Hathaway, still in a boyish, tres chic do, came by to extol the talents of the birthday girl. A pre-Raphaelite beauty, Seyfried's Cosette embodies innocence. In her first movie, Samantha Barks, a 22-year-old from the Isle of Man plays Eponine; the child of a conniving comic couple played by Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, Barks has some serious chops. Bosom bursting for Marius, Eponine is a casualty of revolutionary dreams -- and Barks gives a breakout performance.
This week The National Board of Review named the cast Best Ensemble. The Museum of the Moving Image will honor Hugh Jackman at their gala this Tuesday, making the awards season a moveable feast.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.