For a musical that has been running in London since 1985, was based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel and is nothing short of a global phenomenon, it’s shocking how long it’s taken for a big blockbuster to be made. Despite the stereotype that musicals tend to be melodramatic, cheesy and overly optimistic forms of entertainment, ‘Les Misérables’ is quite the opposite, as its title suggests. It is nothing if not an emotional rollercoaster set in early 19th-century France among the backdrop of various points within the French Revolution.
The story follows excessively strong prisoner Jean Valjean on his quest to be a better man. After breaking his parole, he becomes a wealthy factory owner and the mayor of the local town, and when one of his factory owners Fantine is sacked and forced to become a prostitute to take care of her daughter, Valjean redeems himself through taking her under his wing. After her death, he does the same for her daughter and before long, the revolution is in full swing. Although the plot does exactly what it says on the tin and may come across as plain miserable, it is heart-breaking, full of hope and an outstanding piece of cinema.
‘Les Misérables’ was released in the UK on the 11th of January this year, after it was moved twice so as not to conflict with the release of ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ (2012) and was directed by Tom Hooper, who also directed the immensely successful ‘The King’s Speech’ (2010). The cast is made up of an abundance of Hollywood famous faces, such as Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway as Fatine, Amanda Seyfriend, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha-Baron-Cohen. Regardless of the large dosage of tinsel towners, what really reflects a grasp of the form that made it famous, musical theatre, is the fact that the film is produced by theatre heavyweight Cameron Macintosh, who has produced shows us such ‘Oliver!, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and of course ‘Les Misérables’.
The play itself has been translated into 21 languages and the film has already won 3 Golden Globes and is nominated for 8 Academy Awards, including best actor for Hugh Jackman, along with many others. The stage-to-screen jump is always a tricky one, but no other musical has ever been better translated, with the actors even singing live on set to bring a sense of theatre to the movie. Hooper also wanted his actors to look as realistic as possible, even requesting Jackman to not eat or drink anything for 36 hours and Hathaway to lose 25 pounds.
The attention to detail is also depicted through the impeccable costumes and make-up, as well as acting and vocal performances. Beautiful vocals were recorded with a 70-piece orchestra and with risk after risk thrown into the production, ‘Les Misérables’ was all dependant on the risks pulling through, which they well and truly did. The film will bring the timeless story to yet another generation and Hooper was clearly aware of the pressure for the film to be a success, so refrained from varying the plot. As long as the movie is, it almost sweeps past the secondary storylines, and focuses on the cinema-perfect barricade scene and even cuts when the stage musical’s interval would normally occur.
Fundamentally, the film is a stage production, but with multi-million dollar budget, it is unlike any other musical that’s been forced into filmic form. It also feels intimate and personal, possibly due to the live vocal performances and honest acting performances. For instance, Jackman illustrates an utterly broken man, a rich man redeeming himself and man dying in the midst of a revolution, and does all with flawless emotion, talent and strength. Anne Hathaway also depicts stand-out acting abilities, proving just how far she’s come since ‘The Princess Diaries’ (2001); she is nothing short of heart-rending when losing her job, dignity and eventually her life. Putting Russell Crowe’s passable vocals aside, ‘Les Misérables’ is authentic in its representation of the squalor and pain of the uprising in Paris, and is sure to have the audience singing the soundtrack under their breath for days after!
The lavish set production, by Eve Stewart is more than deserving of its Oscar nomination; the gorgeous visuals are truly a feast for the eyes. These sets are shot beautifully with a variety of camera work, from steadicam to enhance sentiment, many establishing shots and views of how hard-hitting human emotion can really be. And with impeccable casting, ‘Les Misérables’ is a flawless as a film can be, and Tom Hooper has clearly employed all the right people to collaborate with. However Anne Hathaway’s performance of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ is stand-out even within such an enchanting film. It is hysterical, courageous and perfectly blends the utterly broken character with stunning vocals.
A story about unrequited love, broken dreams and redemption, ‘Les Misérables’ is utterly compelling and whether you are a fan of musicals or not, it cannot be missed. The musical and acting performances hold the film together and do exactly what they should; transport the audience into the story through evoking gritty emotion.