Film Review: Les Misérables

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Song Birds

This is a Sing-A-Long Review. Press play on the backing track to “I Dreamed a Dream” before reading.

There was a time musicals were kind

When the songs were discreet

The spoken parts mere bridges

There was a time audiences weren’t blind

And the world knew the difference

Between cinema and theatre

There was a time

Then it all went wrong.


I dreamed a dream in time gone by

When hype was high

And life worth living

I dreamed I’d be moved, perhaps I’d cry

I dreamed Russell’s pipes would be forgiving

Then I was young and had forgot

That musical drama is thin, unfurnished

That the internal monologue each character’s got

Is lyricised and made quite earnest.


But the stars they come at night

The actors’ voices soft as thunder

They’re determined to prove their point

That they can tear your ears to shreds.


So they bellow by our side

The screen filled by haunting close-ups

Hugh was good, while Russell tried

Anne was gone when halfway came.


Yet still I dream it’ll come to me

That the emotion will rip me asunder

But there are dreams that cannot be

Dreams ontologically a non-starter.


I had a dream that this would be

A story told with much conviction

Impressively mounted though it seemed

The musical form remains unredeemed.

Directed by: Tom Hooper

Country: UK

Year: 2012

Running Time: 157 mins

Certificate: 12A for intrusive notes, theatrical silliness and one dimensional characterisation.



13 Responses

  1. James says:

    Lame. Learn how to write a good parody. Start by having the words fit the meter.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      It’s metre, James…and it got the attention the subject matter deserved.

      • Cathy says:

        That was brilliant… I didn’t care for the stage play – too dark and long…. thanks for saving me some bucks better spent at another movie – and not the Hobbit, either.

      • Paul says:

        “Meter” is also correct, you fool. Too bad you only enjoy sadistic, narcissistic, artsy bullcrap that 95% of the population doesn’t care for.

        • Ed Whitfield says:

          This site is allied to British English (or English as it’s more commonly known) so it’s metre. Sorry. Besides, a spelling informed by the french is more appropriate in this context, no?

          As for the second part, man – it makes me les miserable. Let’s wave the french tricolour for anti-intellectualism, groupthink and inverted snobbery. Good thinking, Paul. Baffling that you’ve conflated so-called “arty” material (ugh, the thought of something being artistic! Horrific!) with sadism and, er, narcissism. Are you sure you know your own mind? In any event it must be terrible living in a world where anyone who dislikes something you like is pretentious, but then if you’ve got one of these rice paper egos and can’t separate your tastes from yourself, you need a crutch, right?

          I’m sorry, I’ve just realised this response is not easily set to music.

          • Sam says:

            Ed, I really feel you have no place to comment on poorly made musicals when you are unable to parody a song.
            I will agree that it is metre and that was the only statement you made in this article worth reading.
            I am going to politely ask you to not condescend as I will happily sit through Berkoff and Artaud so I have no problem with artsy work.
            I don’t find your dislike of the film pretenious, I disagree but that’s fine, you’re disregard for musical theatre as a genre however is.
            There are terrible, terrible musicals but that can be said of straight plays and numerous films it is not at all exclusive to musical theatre.
            Take a look, and you must have already or you are painful ignorant in your claim, at Sondheim who has been compared to Shakespeare.
            Bertolt Brecht was well aware as to how song can be used to enhance drama and is one of the most influential practitioners of the 20th centuty. As was Shakespeare who included over a hundred songs in his plays.
            Hopefully you will now realise to disregard an entire genre is the pinnacle of arrogance and you have no real grounds on which to do it unless you intend to disregard all forms of art.

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            My parodic abilities aside, the point was not to match the song syllable for syllable (obviously) but to ape the structure of what’s arguably the best known ditty from the production to make my points, which I did. It also saved me an hour as I could wrap it up in 200 words, which is all I moved to do under the circumstances.

            It’s my place to comment on whatever I choose. I’m going to have to strike your arbitarily imposed condition. Sorry.

            With regards to musical theatre, it’s a matter of taste, naturally, but I generally find it slight and uninvolving for the reasons I’ve alluded to, Sondheim included I’m afraid. I separate that from the music itself, which I might enjoy and sometimes do – including some of the numbers in Les Mis – but that’s a different question from whether I feel the form is the best vehicle for the drama, which often I don’t. Oddly enough I find musicals written for the screen generally superior, perhaps because they’re concieved differently. There the songs generally do enchance key moments in the story without becoming the means by which the story is told. That, for me, is a key distinction. Would I ever disregard an entire genre? No. I’ve regarded it aplenty but remain unmoved by it. You can call that arrogance if you like but it doesn’t worry me; it means I’m more likely to get a seat at a West End play because you’re safely at the musical down the road. 🙂

            Jimmy McGovern, incidentally – one of the most talented writers of British TV drama, hates theatre, did you know that? He considers it overwrought, limited and inherently incapable of realism. He thinks television is thousands of times more sophisicated. I don’t say I agree but I leave you with that food for thought and the point that these distinctions which we’re all clinging on to, somewhat desperately, between high and low brow – meaningless metaphors frankly – are facile; what counts is which mediums we think have the greater weight and range; which are best fit for the kind of story being told. If you’re familar with the choices but have preferences, that’s a matter of opinion, not, as you’d wish it to be, ignorance.

          • Sam says:

            If you want to write a 200 word review, write a 200 word review. The form you chose to take made it appear that you were attempting to appear witty but failed to achieve this effect due to a lazy lack of detail. I understand now this probably isn’t what you were going for however this is what it will appear to be as you must have realised?
            You are, indeed, free to comment on what you chose. I don’t see where I disputed that.
            We clearly have a different opion on how this genre should work as I find that film musicals often seem to have musical numbers simplyu because they can and that to me is pointless.
            As stated before I am just as likely to be sat watching a play as I am a musical.
            Interesting fact about Jimmy McGovern, he wrote a musical. Was that one to your liking?
            Everything is a matter of opinion, there are certainly subjects that lend themselves more to one medium than another. I think McGovern is making a rather valid point and the theatre I tend to enjoy most is that which is not based around naturalism. My issue is not a qestion of mediums it is stating that a genre is ‘thin’ when ultimately there will be a piece that you find ideal somewhere and therefore the genre is not ‘thin’ at all. You simply haven’t found the right work.

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            A 200 word review is precisely what was written, Sam. I’ll decide what form it takes, spanks very much. Whether it was witty or not is a matter of opinion. Thanks for yours but your feedback might be more interesting (and relevant) if you talked about the movie.

            You don’t see where you disputed my right to comment? Well it’s good to know that your lack of close reading applies to your own words as well as mine. Here’s the offending sentence:

            “Ed, I really feel you have no place to comment on poorly made musicals when you are unable to parody a song.” That would be your first sentence. Hard to locate, I grant you.

            Again, the latter’s a matter of opinion and i’ll comment on whatever I choose. It’s not your place to say otherwise. Nor to impose silly conditions.

            You’re wrong about film musicals but then maybe you haven’t found the right work.

            I agree wholeheartedly that I’ve yet to find the stage sing-song that moves me and feels substantial, and I’ve seen plenty (I get dragged to all sorts) but I’m hopeful and can’t wait to see it. For all I know McGovern’s may have been it! If it’s revived I’ll be first in line. Until then, I’ll form my opinion based on my own experiences… if that’s alright with you of course.

  2. Lily says:

    I love your parody 🙂 it sums up the movie well

  3. Harbor Roberts says:

    Trying a little too hard there Ed, and I do not even like that term but feel it is appropriate here. I see a pattern of dislike for anything redemptive in your reviews which tells me you are a very happy and not at all bitter movie reviewer stereotype kinda guy.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      Trying a little too hard to be psychoanalyist there Harbor, if you don’t mind me saying so, and I’m sorry to say you ain’t making it.

      Redemption stories are fine; it’s the treatment that’s important. Anything that defaults to cliche and whimsy – anything that’s twee or mawkish – makes these stories less interesting and less substantial in my view. You’re entitled to disagree of course; perhaps you found Flight profoundly moving, but I didn’t and I’m pretty sure that’s okay.

  4. Aredhel says:

    I was also hugely disappointed by the film and especially this horrible idea of having the actors, not only sing themselves, but even worse, sing “live” on set… I have made my own version, and I tried to respect the metre.:D
    Sorry for people who liked it and do not like seeing it being criticized, but… those who disliked it are also entitled to their opinion!
    And also, my apologies to Tom Hooper. We are mean to creators, but it is only because we love what they can do and expect too much from them sometimes 🙂 And, well, I do think he f**ed up this film, and I am so bitterly disappointed, so I need to calm my nerves after nearly 3 hours of cinematic torture.

    There was a time when films moved you
    When the voices weren’t soft
    And trailers were inviting
    There was a time when people knew
    What a musical was
    And the songs were exciting
    There was a time
    Then it all went wrong

    I dreamed a dream in time gone by
    That I would see a good musical
    I dreamed the actors would be dubbed
    I dreamed the songs would be beautiful
    Then I thought my vision was blurred
    For what I saw was devastating
    There was no dialogue to be heard
    No line unsung, no song unwasted

    Cause Tom Hooper came at night
    And said ‘the actors will sing live’
    So they gasped, and sobbed, and cried
    And they tore my ears to shreds!

    He made them all sing on set live
    He filled my eyes with endless close-ups
    He took 3 hours of my life
    But it was too late for regrets…

    I had a dream this film would be
    So much more than this dreadful shipwreck
    So different now from what it seemed
    Now Tom has killed the film I dreamed…