Les Misérables is a triumph on the big screen, with stellar performances by Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, and many others. But the one who took my breath away was relative unknown Samantha Barks, who played the lovely Éponine.
For those unfamiliar with Les Misérables, Éponine is the young daughter of an innkeeper (played by Cohen) during the 1832 June rebellion in France. Although she is madly in love with her best friend, Marius (Eddie Redmayne), he only has eyes for Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of the film's protagonist, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). Terribly saddened and disappointed that her Marius loves another, Éponine has to decide whether to help him find his beloved Cosette.
George Saintsbury, literary scholar, once said that Éponine was the most interesting character in the novel, but that its author Victor Hugo, like Marius, did not take enough notice of her. I could not agree with him more.
Samantha Barks plays Éponine with such a grace, sweetness and sadness that it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role. For the time that she was on-screen, she really stole the movie, with her passion and a voice that could only come from Heaven. Although other more well known actors in the film will receive most of the recognition (most notably, Jackman), Barks is the actress who really made the movie for me.
With the spectacular performance Barks put into the film, you would think she had been in a wide variety of movies before, but actually, she has no big screen experience at all. Barks, now age 22, recorded her first album in 2007 and the following year she placed third in a talent competition hosted by Andrew Lloyd Webber. From 2010 to 2011, she played Éponine in the London stage production of Les Misérables, and from 2011 to 2012, she played Nancy in the UK tour of Oliver.
She left the play in order to put her heart and soul into the film version of Les Misérables.
I would watch the entire film over again just to see Barks sing. I hope to see more of this surprising young talent as the years progress.