Film Review: LES MISERABLES
Thursday, 17 January 2013

LES MISERABLES

This well-made film of the musical has an astonishing performance by Hugh Jackman

Written by Kat Brown
Based on Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s musical version of the Victor Hugo novel, which became a worldwide smash after Cameron Mackintosh brought it to Britain, Les Mis’s classic tale of romance, morality and crushing poverty in revolution-era France has enchanted millions – and for those who found it fine rather than fantastic, this film might change their view.

Tom Hooper’s latest film after the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, looks set to make just as much of an awards sweep, thanks to brave direction – the excellent cast sings live – outstanding costumes and make-up.

From the garish hair and terrible teeth of the conniving Thénardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) to the broken teeth of the French poor, it looks as convincing as it can be when half the cast are A-listers. It would be nothing without the astonishing performance of Hugh Jackman, who anchors the film with all the grace of a stately ship. His Jean Valjean is excellent: a credible thief, whose redemption at the hands of a bishop (played by the original Valjean, Colm Wilkinson) leads to a life alternately spent on the run from the tenacious policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) and trying to have a better life.

Years after breaking parole, Valjean owns a factory, where Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a young, abandoned mother, works. When she is fired, due in part to an oversight by Valjean, her downward spiral towards poverty, prostitution and death is utterly shocking. Where the stage version shied away from Hugo’s darker elements, such as Fantine selling her teeth, the film does not, and the loss of her dignity pours into one of the film’s most electrifyingly sung scenes.

Her song, I Dreamed A Dream, long the bane of school drama teachers, is delivered in a way that is so ragged, so furious and so shocking, that it stuns you. Hathaway’s deservedly Oscar tipped performance strips away any association with Susan Boyle, and becomes fresh and terrifying.

The same cannot be said for Russell Crowe. His man-hunting Javert has all the gravitas of a man who has misplaced his sandwich and is quite put out. Crowe has turned in wonderful performances in the past, but whenever Javert is on screen, you wish he wasn’t.

Despite Hooper’s best efforts, the odd bit of musical hokum sneaks in. Do we need a stranger walking past Samantha Barks’s Eponine at the exact moment she sings ‘the streets are full of strangers’? And there were guffaws when a giant, obviously fake, butterfly landed on Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) while singing A Heart Full Of Love, with Eddie Redmayne’s Marius.

However, even the tritest of winged beasts can’t lessen the impact of the score, or the sight of French soldiers marching down Paris’s streets (actually Greenwich), or Valjean and prisoners growling the opening ‘Look Down’. But for theatre fans, this film captures exactly the emotion and exhilaration of the musical, and shows non-believers why we love them so.


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