For 28 years, the world has heard the people sing the songs of angry men and finally, after 47,000 professional performances, 96 major theatre awards and a worldwide audience figure of over 60 million, Cameron Mackintosh’s masterpiece Les Misérables comes to cinema screens through The King’s Speech director, Tom Hooper, with all the energy and passion of… well, barricade soldiers of the French Revolution.
For those unaware of the story of Les Misérables, it begins when Prisoner 24601, otherwise known as Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released on parole from prison before stealing from an old Bishop just to survive. He is forgiven and sent on his way as a new man, albeit having violated his parole. Eight years later, whilst on the run from Prison Guard Javert (Russell Crowe) he allows Fantine (Anne Hathaway) to be fired from her factory work that she is using as a means to pay for her child, the young Cosette (Isabelle Allen). Valjean thus condemns Fantine to a life of prostitution and selling her teeth and hair in order to continue supporting Cosette. Valjean, feeling responsible for this, offers to adopt the child as repentance for allowing Fantine’s downward spiral and, without spoiling the rest of the story, let’s just say you shouldn’t get too attached to any of the characters.
If there is any character that male actors would be both desperate and terrified to play, that character is probably Jean Valjean. The vocal range needed to perform such songs as ‘Bring Him Home’ and ‘Who Am I?’ is a tough call and whilst Hugh Jackman is certainly no Alfie Boe or Colm Wilkinson, (who incidentally, in a charming state of affairs, plays the Bishop who saves Valjean in this film adaptation) his performance is still highly credible as both actor and vocalist and it is clear throughout Les Misérables that Jackman really feels moved by each lyric, aiding his performance.
The highlight is Anne Hathaway’s stripped down, raw rendition of the infamous ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ which is guaranteed to leave audiences either weeping or rocking backwards and forwards, cradling their ultimately broken heart. Hathaway’s Fantine is fragile and beautiful yet cold and vicious. Her desperation, alcoholism and deep set love for her daughter is passionately played and is arguably Hathaway’s greatest performance yet.
Samantha Barks reprises her role as Eponine, her year long stint as the character in the West End show allows her to comfortably slip back in to the role and her voice steals each scene that she is in. Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried wonderfully play the lovesick Marius and Cosette and are able to make the audience believe in love at first sight with their heartfelt performances in which their voices complement each other perfectly.
Despite the addition of a few extra songs that may throw purists and a few questionable moments from Russell Crowe’s Javert , Les Misérables is a beautiful adaptation of an outstanding theatre show. Tom Hooper’s direction along with some very impressive CGI makes for a visually stunning 157 minutes. The prison/shipyard scene in particular is incredibly impressive, as is the establishing shot of the slums of Saint Michel and the barricade.
It translates well to the screen however if you happen to be a Les Misérables virgin when you go to the cinema to watch it, make sure you make time to book tickets to the show as well. Whilst the film adaptation is more than admirable, the live show is breathtaking and this adaptation just isn’t quite as powerful. A solid effort, but Les Misérables: The Movie doesn’t hold a candle to live theatre.