Cari Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor.
It’s not likely that any of the 60 million theatergoers who saw the musical Les Misérables would have thought the stage production limiting, but they weren’t charged with taking the longest-running musical, set in 1800s France, and blowing it out to larger-than-life size. In what was described by Working Title producers as a “deceptively difficult” adaptation, director Tom Hooper assembled a team that included his longtime production designer Eve Stewart and veteran costume designer Paco Delgado to create a factually accurate world, sprinkled with the magic and fantasy of the beloved musical.
But what no one on the team knew going in was that all singing (and the film is 99% singing) would be shot live. This posed interesting challenges for determining locations, given sound considerations and the desire to use very little CGI. “But,” says Stewart, who was nominated for an Oscar for Hooper’s The King’s Speech, as well as 1999’s Topsy-Turvy, “new ideas are usually the best ones,” so the constraints didn’t narrow her scope as she scouted locations for 20 weeks. She eventually settled on a pristine mountain range in the south of France; the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in England (where the HMS Victory is moored); an 18th-century rope factory in Kent (the timbers of which were so old that the crew was barred from lighting candles, so imitation flickering lights had to be used); the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich; the River Avon in Bath; as well as a set crafted at Pinewood Studios in London. In each location, Stewart’s crew had to eliminate squeaky floorboards and door hinges, and horses had to be fitted with rubberized hooves. The only location Stewart didn’t have to adapt was Boughton House in Northamptonshire, which dates back to the 17th century and is dubbed the “English Versailles,” where the wedding scene was filmed.