WARNING! This article contains film spoilers!
I went to go and see this film because I was told I HAD to. Either there’s even more Les Misérablesfans than I initially thought, or something similar has been going on the world over too. With box-office figures currently at around £4.4million since its release on January 11th, The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper’s enterprise has clearly broken barriers in reaching musical lovers on a scale never seen before.
Adapted for film from the box-office record breaking stage success, Les Misérableswas arguably set to soar from the start due to its established position as the peoples’ musical. Victor Hugo’s infamous novel tells the story of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his plight to do right by God whilst protecting Fantine’s illegitimate daughter Cosette in the process. Rife with political and historical significance, the tale centres on the Paris Uprising of 1832, an unsuccessful attempt at overthrowing the French monarchy which resulted in great bloodshed.
Much of this turmoil was illustrated effectively, with epic scenes such as the initial towing of the ship requiring hundreds of extras as convicts, along with the later scenes of combat and finally the poignant imagined celebratory ending along the streets of Paris. Moments of intimacy were also adjusted well from musical to film, with Éponine’s tragic death and Jean Valjean’s final goodbye to Cosette and Marius emphasised attentively for maximum back row sniffling.
The actors themselves pulled off the roles powerfully despite early speculation that their ‘A-List’ statuses would encourage artificial and idealized performances. Anne Hathaway’s gritty ‘I dreamed a dream’ came as a bolt out of the blue after the Princess Diaries days in which it was believed her primary talent was acting. Add to this strong vocal performances from the likes of Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Eddie Redmayne, and it would be reasonable to suggest that the film brought the best of both worlds.
Incorporating figures from the West End show such as Samantha Barks and Colm Wilkinson, the combination of theatrical stars, film actors and even child sensations made for an impressive feat of film. Its violence and vibrancy showed something brilliant amongst the bloodshed of the story’s context, making for a well-deserved show-stopper of now both stage and screen.
Clearly easily lead, I was then told by a friend that if you went to see this film in close succession with Les Misérables, the latter would be easily overshadowed by this exploration into the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. I tested this out, she was right.
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, the film is based on a true story surrounding the Tsunami that hit the paradise holiday resort of Khao Lak, Thailand. Focusing on the tale of one family’s plight to survive let alone reunite with one another, The Impossible could be described as more of an experience than a film.
It would obviously be wrong to directly compare the two films as their purposes vary dramatically. However, I could not help but feel that the historicism and musical numbers of Les Misérables took away from the real life and although there were some really touching moments, I wasn’t physically dragged through the emotional gutter as with Bayona’s venture.
The sheer scale of production and realism was enough to keep anyone gripped for the full 114 minute running time. Panoramic shots of destruction and debris cut to harrowing examples of the day’s devastation, as countless lines of body bags filled the streets surrounded by distressed tourists looking to identify loved ones.
There was something very endearing about Naomi Watts’s principle role as Mother Maria Bennett. Watts had been supported in the development process by Tsunami survivor María Belón, the film’s inspiration and part of the reunited family that the story centres on. Working alongside an intense Ewan McGregor and a remarkable collection of child actors such as Tom Holland, The Impossible appeared to have everything going for it.
Apart from the appreciation of the survivors that is. Criticized for an all too convincing representation of events back in 2004, it has been alleged that the trailer alone reduced many to tears, perhaps evidence that for some coming to terms with the impact of this life changing experience is not something that is going to take place anytime soon.
Even for those who were not directly involved, the film easily draws you into its heady web of excruciating tension, and I for one cannot believe we have access to material like that in the cinema. Go and see The Impossible, just to make you appreciate the beauty of life.