To create a film adaptation of Les Miserables, one of the greatest musical successes of all time is no small task. Director Tim Hooper, hailed for his brilliant “The King’s Speech” released in 2010, has picked up the gauntlet.
The stage show was itself an adaption of Victor Hugo’s novel set among the poor and suppressed in 19th century France, leading up to the 1832 anti-monarchist rebellion in Paris. The centre of the story is the unfortunate Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman, imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his sister’s child. After his release, Valjean lives a beggars life as no one wants to give him work do to his previous conviction. At last a bishop takes him in and helps him see that there is still a future for him. Valjean breaks his parole and escape from the authorities.
Eight years later Valjean has reinvented himself as a successful business man and town mayor. But he can never truly rest as the vicious police officer Javert, played by Russell Crowe is constantly on the hunt for him. One of Valjean’s employees Fantine(Anne Hathaway) is kicked out of the factory by the evil foreman, doomed to live a rotten life of begging and prostitution. Valjean tries to save her but not before it is to late. After her death he adopts her daughter Cosette.
Fast forward a few years and Valjean and the grown up Cosette(Amanda Seyfried) has settles in Paris where she falls in love with the young revolutionary Marius(Eddie Redmayne) just days before the students rise in revolt and Veljean must face his old nemesis Javert.
Unlike the standard musicals, Hooper has all singing recorder live on the set. This feature makes the film a more intimate experience. Hathaway’s version of I dreamed a dream is brutally raw and one of the best parts of the film along with one of Jackman’s opening scenes.
Fans of the musical might find both joy and disappointment in this film. All the famous songs are included and performed by a star cast. On the other hand the stage version some times feel grander, like the revolution scenes in the film where we are limited to one little barricade on a street corner.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham plays well as the crooked innkeepers M and Mme Thenardier, providing the comic relief in the film. Jackman gives a solid performance as Valjean and Crowe gives the greater depth and a soft human touch to the hard Javert. Redmayne probably is the best singer of the cast, and his soft tenor fit the revolutionary dreamer he portrays.
Les Miserables is a good film, but there is still unreleased potential. Sadly it lacks the final touch to make it truly epic.