At the end of the film you’re another few years older

Mark Shenton
Mark is associate editor of The Stage, as well as joint lead critic. He has written regularly for The Stage since 2005, including a daily online column.
by -

Talk about going to the wire: director Tom Hooper revealed the other day that he finished the final print for his new film version of Les Miserables at 2am on last Wednesday morning – and by Friday afternoon it was being screened in New York and LA to invited industry audiences.

As he put it:

I finished it at 2am yesterday and was already screening it today at [New York's] Alice Tully Hall. I don’t think I’ve ever been more exhausted. But it’s been an extraordinary response. I think they broke into applause 14 or 15 times during the film. I remember the audience breaking into applause near the end of The King’s Speech but this is taking that to a new level. Towards the end of this film today this weird thing happened like a rustling kind of sound. For a minute Ids freaked out wondering what’s that odd sound on the soundtrack. I looked around and realized it’s the sound of people crying en masse. Rather extraordinary for me.

But here's a little mystery: on Friday morning Baz Bamigboye also revealed he'd already seen it in his weekly Daily Mail column. (And although the column appears in print on Fridays, I actually first saw it online the night before, around 10pm, as I tweeted at the time). So I assume he must have seen an unfinished print, in that case.

I'm also wondering how Hugh Jackman, got to see it, too, ahead of those screenings last Friday, as he wasn't even in London or LA, as Deadline reports:

Jackman himself only just saw the film last night and when we spoke just a while ago he was still reeling from the experience. “I just saw it last night (in Sydney). I was pretty speechless I have to say. I think when I saw it in its entirety — I knew intellectually it was a big risk — but when I saw it I said ‘wow, man. This is massive, a big bone to chew on, that one’. I felt so proud to be part of it. And I think for Tom to do this as his first film after King’s Speech is just an incredible kind of testament to him."

It has immediately got a lot of buzz, with the Hollywood Reporter rushing to declare after that first New York screening last Friday how it is "clearly headed for Oscars." The juggernaut has  evidently started rolling.

But here's a curious fact: when I enquired last week when the theatre press in London might get a chance to see it, I was offered December 11 – not just three weeks away at the time, but also, interestingly, a direct clash with the opening night for Viva Forever! (And the world premiere celebrity screening the week before on December 5 clashes with the winter's other big musical opening, The Bodyguard).

I know that the film world marches to a different drum than the theatre world, of course, and the theatre is small potatoes compared to the global reach of a film like Les Miserables, so a mighty movie machine will happily stamp all over a theatrical one, even if it is the theatre that gave birth to Les Mis in the first place.

But it also strikes me that, coincidence or not, it's weird for a date to be offered to theatre journalists that clashes so conspicuously with Viva Forever! – a new show being produced by Judy Craymer, who of course also produced Mamma Mia! (and has itself been the tenant of three theatres owned by Cameron Mackintosh, including its current home the Novello). Yet Craymer's film version of Mamma Mia! is also the one for Les Miserables to beat as the most successful movie musical of all time.

Cameron Mackintosh's London office have promised to try to arrange an alternative screening date. But meanwhile, I'm hearing of multiple other screenings: one last night, for instance, for radio presenters; and another next week – the night before the official premiere – to cast and crew. Funnily enough, one cast member has already contacted me, offering me his ticket for that, as he wasn't going to go; but neither can I (it clashes with the Donmar's Julius Caesar). His reason for passing on seeing it is unprintable here (and private), but he didn't have a good time making it.

Actually, I'm now wondering if I should simply wait to see it as a paying customer – I'll be in New York when it opens there on Christmas Day (a wonderful New York tradition is that major films get released on that day!), long ahead of its UK release date of January 11. But it's also odd given how earlier this summer Cameron Mackintosh personally invited a few theatre journalists, including me, down to the set at Pinewood to see the filming (though it turned out mainly to see the set and a lot of milling around by assorted extras); yet no one's in a rush to show us the finished result now.