Les Miserables and the hypocritics

By Neil Chapman

I want to talk about Les Miserables in a moment, but firstly I want to get something off my chest.


Look down 

What do you think of ‘em, eh? These people who set themselves up as arbiters of our taste. The ones who go to all the first nights and then write their reviews for the newspapers the following day.

Critics or Muppets?

Critics or Muppets?

You know you shouldn’t but you do; you read them and they colour your view before you go to see whatever it is they’ve reviewed. It’s worse sometimes when you read the review after you’ve seen something that you really enjoyed it, then find the critics have slammed it. It can make you feel silly if you’re not careful. Silly or angry. Depends on your nature. Guess what I feel?

Yes I know, we are all critics from time to time. We all watch stuff and then have a view on it. So I guess it’s no different to listening to your mate’s opinion, but because it’s your mate, it’s easy to disregard their views because you know they don’t have your taste, your appreciation of the subtleties of the finer aspects of the arts, be that art itself, cinema, shows or even TV. But, when you read or listen or see what the so-called ‘critics’ have to say, for some reason you take more notice. Why is that? Because they’re ‘experts’? Because they know better than us? Because they are paid to do it?

Interesting question and I’m not sure either.

And dontcha just love it when they disagree with each other? Surely, (and think this through) if they were experts, all of them, surely they would all agree with each other? Anyway…

Master of the House

As my dear old mum used to say… Critics? Bollocks. They know nothing, at least when it comes to the arts, no more than you or I. I give you the Turner Prize. It doesn’t matter which year, or what won it, it’ll be questionable. But guaranteed to have some critics salivating at the mouth in their praise. I give you that pile of bricks they all loved, and what about Tracey Emin’s unmade bed?

Well...Mr.Saatchi liked it enough to pay £150k for t.

Well…Mr.Saatchi liked it enough to pay £150k for it.

All this is stuff you either like or you don’t. You might even grow to like it. What I don’t like though is being told what to like. And often, in the most high falutin’, pretentious, gobble-de-gook language imaginable.

It’s all about personal taste. I will refer you to the best writer I know and the best commentator on ‘entertainment’ I know, William Goldman, who famously said in his book ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’ that “Nobody knows anything.” Never, never has a truer word been spoken about almost anything, let alone entertainment. That’s just my view, of course.

Empty chairs at empty tables

Anyway, I digress, my point is, take no notice of the experts, the critics. If you want to see it, go and see it and make your own mind up and don’t be discouraged. Never forget Louis B Mayer originally cut  ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ out of ‘The Wizard of Oz’. It’s since won awards as the best song in a movie ever and no, I don’t like it either but that’s exactly my point! Decca Records? They turned down the Beatles saying “Guitar bands are on the way out”… and Western Union turned down a piece of kit in 1876 they said “Was of no inherent value to them”… that was the telephone. Oh dear.

More to the point, one of their most recent classic mis-judgements was in 1985 when Les Miserables was first staged. It was slammed by most of the critics, one of whom still hides behind the George Bernard Shaw bon mot, “50 million Frenchmen can’t be right”. Left to the critics this show wouldn’t have seen the light of day after its opening night in the Barbican. 28 years ago. 28 years! 42 countries! 21 languages! The most successful musical ever. 

On my own

So where is all this leading? The cinema that’s where, or ‘The Pictures’ as these places should be called. Why? Because I’m going to review a film for you. Yes after all that I’m going to be a critic. That’s why I wanted to compare notes about ‘critics’ earlier because here I am, putting myself in their position. Sort of. Although, this is more of a comparison than a review. And anyway, it’s my blog…

Bring him home

So here we go. I’m talking about the film version of Les Miserables recently released. And recently reviewed. It got good notices, but many of the critics just couldn’t help themselves and needed images-4(yes, needed) to disparage Russell Crowe’s singing. Why do they do this? Look, I know he can’t sing, you know he can’t sing and I’m pretty sure he knows he can’t sing either. But surely to God, after all these years, don’t they know it’s nothing to do with the singing? It’s all about the emotion, particularly his role.

I dreamed a dream

Anyway, I have just been to see it. I couldn’t wait. I loved the stage show and I love the music to the point that I break down in tears almost every time I hear it.

I came away disappointed. Very disappointed. You who have seen the stage show and are going to see the film, you’ll be disappointed too, I think, and I’ll tell you why. Because it doesn’t have the same power as the musical. And that’s what we wanted to see, to experience again! Almost certainly, like me, you loved the show because you interacted with it. The orchestra in the pit a few yards away from you, the cast larger than life acting and singing their hearts out, the incredible sets filling the stage. And the music. Yes the film has the same music but actually it doesn’t. Not like the show has music. Music that fills your head, grabs your senses, music that takes you over, makes you a character in scene after scene, suffering with them, feeling what they feel, sharing their determination, their pain whatever. The show is happening now, right in front of you, creating magic, chemistry. Of course great films can move you, take you with them, but not quite like the theatre. And nothing quite like Les Mis.

And perhaps that’s where the problem with the film lies. Any film is going to struggle to compare favourably with a good stage production of the same film. So… if you saw the show, I think you’ll be disappointed.

Do you hear the people sing?

On the other hand, if you haven’t seen the musical, go see the film. You’ll love it. I mean that. Great story, great music and excellent acting and singing. If you have one shred of emotion within you, one shard, this show will find it. Russell Crowe? He does OK, in fact better than OK. The singing, the acting is really first class; Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne et al, they’re all good. They ‘act’ the singing if you know what I mean and carry it off easily.

But, but, but.  At some point in your life, if you get the chance to see the show, take it. Do this one thing, just for you and see the musical version of ‘Les Miserables’ and take those you love with you. I think it will be a night you will never forget. I don’t think you would ever be able to say that about the film.

Who am I?

But I could be wrong.

Bugger! I shouldn’t have said that.

I’ll never make a critic.

3 thoughts on “Les Miserables and the hypocritics

  1. Tony Mant

    Very amusing critique Neil.

    I share your views in respect of the stage show insofar that it was staged in the West End with the best professional stage singers, beautifully staged and directed. What a show, acksherly, if it hadn’t been for the timely Master of the House routine, I might well have slit my wrists with the misery I was going through with the storyline.

    The Film: For the first 15 – 20 minutes both Jenny and I wondered what we were watching, comparing it with our knowledge of the stage show, then somehow it started to work for us. I especially like the ability of the film to be able to use it’s scale to visualise Paris of that time. The stage show produced a dramatic suggestion of a barricade within the scope of a theatre stage, whereas the film was able to demonstrate what a quickly assembled barricade could look like in the narrow streets of that period.

    I especially liked the fact that the actor’s didn’t mime, either to their own voices, or to professional singers, thus giving credibility to ordinary people responding to their situations within their miserable lives.

    Very good entertainment.

  2. Sandra

    Very fun blog Neil; I enjoy your writing style. That being said, I loved the book Jean Valjean and truly its a classic. I have a lot of trouble with anyone messing with it; and yes that means composing songs and dancing around in wierd hairstyles. Plus ewww Hugh Jackman (just not someone I care to watch do anything). To convey the depth the book has, has yet to be done in my estimation. Well, I guess I am critical not really a critic.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *