Les Misérables is a triumph
Having achieved unparalleled success for over 25 years, the musical of Victor Hugo’s classic novel hits the big screens with a big name cast. Helmed by Tom Hooper of King’s Speech fame, Les Misérables stars Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter and Eddie Redmayne.
Because it sticks very faithfully to the musical from which it is adapted, this 160-minute epic will be absolutely eaten up by fans of the stage show. The story is given further depth and new life by the fine use of location and editing, while the performances from the cast more than do justice to the much-loved songs. Jackman, having plenty of Broadway experience, completely owns the lead role as a former convict, Jean Valjean, who breaks his parole to become mayor of his town after being given a second chance by a priest (played by Colm Wilkinson, formerly Valjean on the stage). Meanwhile, Crowe is strong, convincing and thankfully accent-free (remember Robin Hood?) as Jackman’s antagonist, the policeman who devotes his life to hunting him down. But while this is the narrative that drives things forward, there are so many more layers to this tale, set in revolutionary 19th Century France. As a group of young idealists prepare to make their last stand at a street barricade, the hellish life of the poor is summed up by the plight of Anne Hathaway’s Fantine, a factory worker who, through horrible and completely avoidable circumstance, falls from factory work into prostitution as she tries to support her daughter. Hathaway may have her detractors but she is absolutely exceptional in this role. Her performance of I Dreamed a Dream, in which – after being forced into prostitution – she mourns her destroyed hopes and aspirations, is as powerful moment as the movie offers.
Those who are uninitiated with the stage production might encounter a couple of stumbling blocks. Firstly, this is a long film. Very long. It is a musical as much as it is a movie and there is barely a piece of dialogue that isn’t sung. So, if you are of the same mindset as the bloke in my screening who chirped up with the following pearl of wisdom on the way out: “It could’ve been half as long if they hadn’t bloody sung everything,” then you might wanna stay away (incidentally, I was of the opposite opinion. I could have watched another hour). Secondly, the film’s title is an apt description. This is not a happy tale and it doesn’t end well for the vast majority of the characters. While, ultimately, redemption is a major theme, there is A LOT of misery in this tale of life, death, love, class and religion.
However, if you already have an affection for Les Mis, or at least are prepared to watch a meaty, lengthy musical, then you will absolutely be swept away by this fantastic film. It is a truly triumphant adaptation which will take you on an unrelenting emotional roller-coaster. It will have you laughing (at Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter), crying (at almost everything else) and completely entranced throughout. The big set-pieces are executed to perfection. One Day More is cut together beautifully, Bring Him Home is touching, Master of the House is great fun and the big finale is incredible in the way it takes an already epic ending to the stage production and makes it 100 times bigger and more emotive.
There is no doubt that the movie will feature strongly come award season, and deservedly so. A testimony to how wonderful Les Misérables is, is that despite being in my seat for the best part of three hours, I could have happily watched all 160 minutes again as soon as the credits rolled.
Review by Bobby Townsend. Incidentally, the soundtrack is out now and offers highlights from the film, including Hathaway’s tear-jerker, as well as the incredible ‘Bring Him Home’, ‘Stars’ and ‘One Day More’. Grab it if you want to familiarise yourself before you see the flick (be warned, at least one song title is a plot spoiler) or want to relive it. There are notable absences though, so hopefully the full soundtrack will be available at some stage.