Les Misérables

Rated 12A for moderate violence and language, 158 minutes ★★★★★★★★★☆

Tom Hooper directs Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sascha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne in this adaptation of the musical by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer, from the novel by Victor Hugo.

There probably isn’t anyone in the country who hasn’t at least heard of Les Mis or the song I dreamed a dream (even if it’s only the Susan Boyle cover), regardless of whether they’ve seen the West End show. Now, it’s probably fair to say that if you hated the musical (or the song…), you’ll hate the film. but if you loved the stage show, boy are you going to lap this up!

The film is based on the show, which is based on the book by Victor Hugo. Jean Valjean (Jackman) has been imprisoned for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread. When he breaks the terms of his parole, he is mercilessly hunted by Inspector Javert (Crowe). Determined to turn his life around, Valjean becomes mayor and a factory owner. Here he crosses paths with the tragic Fantine (Hathaway), and vows to take in and raise her daughter Cosette. Some years later, the grown-up Cosette meets and falls in love with the revolutionary Marius (Redmayne), just as Paris is about to explode into violence…

The movie opens with a sweeping shot over wrecked ships of the line, blasted by waves on the beach and being dragged into a dry dock by hundreds of prisoners pulling on waterlogged ropes and singing the first number, Look Down. This sets the tone and scale of the film: Vast and sweeping; epic. It’s grim and gritty, brutal and relentless. The songs rip your heart out and then come back for more.

The film is very much in your face — literally — with the camera pushing in to extreme close ups. Not only do we get to see what the actors had for tea yesterday, but we also see the passion and commitment they bring to their part, often with throbbing veins to boot. Jackman and Crowe are the only real constants in the 17 years that the film spans; the other characters appear only for a much shorter time. Jackman carries the film, and although his singing is not to the standard of, say, a professional singer, it is competent if a little wobbly at times. Anne Hathaway makes but a brief appearance as Fantine, but her rendering of I dreamed a Dream, live and all in one take, is worthy of an Oscar (she already got the Golden Globe) and will be the standard for years to come.

Mention must also be made of Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the comic relief villains Mr & Mme Thénardier, the evil innkeepers. Comic villains are somewhat of a speciality, and the pair are well suited to the parts.

If I have to find a criticism, it would be the sets. Particularly in Paris, and especially the barricade, look out of place compared to the rest of the film. They seem very small and static, giving the feeling that the action is taking place on a stage rather than in the streets of a big city.

Raw and slightly rough around the edges, nevertheless this movie has “Oscar” written all over it.

Man the barricades!