One of the most famous musicals of all time, Les Miserables has been adapted to the big screen for the first time since 1998 with the help of The King’s Speech supremo Tom Hooper. Based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo it was adapted to a stage musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg and was first performed in Paris in 1980.
Set in post-revolutionary France, prisoner 24601 aka Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is granted his freedom and after being refused sanctuary he is given a chance at a new life from a kindly Priest. Years later under a new name and a successful factory owner he meets Fantine (Anne Hathaway) the mother of a child taken from her called Cosette. After revealing his true identity to save an innocent man, he escapes Officer Javert (Russell Crowe) and seeks out the child and raises her as his own. The grown-up Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) meets Marius (Eddie Redmayne) a decision that leads her and Valjean on a path straight toward an epic civil uprising that will change their life forever.
Les Miserables is more an opera than a musical, with almost every single word sung. It takes some getting used to, especially as my main problem with musicals is the affected singing styles, thank God then for Russell Crowe, whose deep unprofessional voice breaks up the constant same tone from the other male performers. Director Tom Hooper clearly has an eye for casting especially in the case of Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Madame Thenardier (Helena Bonham-Carter) who bring comic flavour to an otherwise depressing story.
It must be said that you can feel every single piece of dirt and the art department should be applauded for their efforts. Not that you see much of it. Tom Hooper’s camera floats around capturing his actors in close-up at the expense of the sweeping landscapes, which is frustrating. You’d think with a running time close to 3 hours he’d take some time to take in his surroundings a bit, but I suppose the reasoning was to make up for a lack of close-ups in the stage shows.
At its heart however, Les Miserables contains two performances that elevate it from mediocrity. As Jean Valjean, Jackman gives every once of passion and emotion in his body to each scene and it is through him that the film finds the reason to keep watching to the end, even if seems days away. Meanwhile, Hooper’s irritating obsession with lingering close-up shots actually pays dividends in one moving, astonishing moment. Hathaway devours the character of tragic heroine Fantine completely. Her sobbing, hysterical performance has to be seen to be believed and when it comes to Les Miserables‘ big hit, “I Dreamed a Dream,” she is raw, harsh and utterly compelling.
Frustratingly directed and far too long Les Miserables represents a bold, loud but horribly flawed musical theatre-to-film adaptation. It should by praised for effort, and fans will absolutely love every warbling second, and lucky for them. For me it was like being assaulted for 3 hours by an unstoppable monster, which emotionally battered me to near-death. Then just when I thought it was over, the beast leaned over and whispered in my ear “Do you hear the people sing?” Yes, it’s all I’ll be hearing for days.