Saturday, 22 June 2013

How much of a great performance comes from a great script?

Watching Les Miserables the other day for a second time, I was reminded of how truly breathtaking Eddie Redmayne and Anne Hathaway's performances are, particularly in the Empty Chairs and I Dreamed a Dream songs. But I was also thinking that Hugh Jackman is also fantastic in his main role but none of the songs he sings are as powerful as the last two mentioned.

It got me thinking how much of a great performance comes from a great script. It seems strange to choose Les Miserables as the film to discuss but the songs are the script so why not? Do I think the best performances are during Empty Chairs and I Dreamed a Dream because those two songs are the most powerful in my opinion? Are Redmayne and Hathaway at an advantage over everyone else because those two songs capture the emotions of the whole story the best?

Is it the lyrics or the music? This is why I think so much of the performances are down to the script because those two songs have great lyrics and come at highly emotive moments of the narrative. Hathaway's Fontaine has endured all manner of awfulness and is at her absolute lowest, as is Redmayne's Marius. She has lost her job, her pride, her hair, teeth and freedom and he has lost all his friends. And then Marius belts out these lyrics:

There's a grief that can't be spoken.
There's a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone.

Here they talked of revolution.
Here it was they lit the flame.
Here they sang about `tomorrow'
And tomorrow never came.

And Fontaine gets the immortal lines:

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving

It's all too much. Just reading them makes me sad! Do actors get a head start with a script/lyrics like these?  Of course they do! I'm not dismissing Hathaway or Redmayne's work because I'm sure two less talented actors could have done far worse at conveying the emotions of the songs but still, I wonder if the reason I don't come away from Les Miserable banging on about Hugh Jackman (who carries most of the film) is because he doesn't get two songs as good as those above.

I a quick Google search of great movie performances shows up:

These are mostly very modern but it does make me wonder about the strength of the scripts that gave birth to the magnificent performances. I don't wish to take anything away from these actors but would they have created such brilliant performances without such great scripts?

On the other hand can a great actor turn a crappy script into something that sounds like Shakespeare? What do you think?

More questions at I Love That Film:

What makes a Movie Icon?

What is the best of Ingmar Bergman?

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