Release Date: 11th January (UK), 26th December (US)
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter
An epic movie musical is a rare thing these days. Much like the Western, the genre has slowly died out over the years, the favoured film format being replaced by the action blockbuster in the 1980s. Lovers of musicals have instead become more invested in theatre, with the musical version of Les Misérables surfacing in the early 80s, and becoming one of the most successful of its kind in history. It is a musical behemoth: it has been seen on-stage by over 60 million people worldwide, and so comes with a hefty weight of expectation. With an all-star cast and Oscar-winning director at the helm, there was reason to get excited, and also to be nervous. Thankfully, for the most part, Les Misérables is a triumph. At two and a half hours long, it will most likely test the patience of non-musical lovers, but for fans of the genre it will be something to cherish.
What is most impressive about this adaptation is the way it balances theatricality and intimacy: it is intensely epic, and yet searingly intimate. One moment the camera will be soaring through the scenery, the next it will be defiantly fixed on a character’s face. In the case of Anne Hathaway’s solo for Fantine’s ‘I dreamed a dream’, this tactic is incredibly effective. Sung live in one unbroken take, Hathaway’s rendition of a dying woman relaying her regrets is nothing short of magnificent, and one of the most moving pieces of performance in recent memory. The sequence is stripped of any and all theatricality, and gone is the grandeur of Susan Boyle; Hathaway cries and screams her way through the scene: a desperate woman in a moment of despairing clarity.
In fact, Hathaway is so good that the film arguably peaks at this sequence, leaving you with another hour and a half which never lives up to its first act. The love story between Cosette (Seyfried) and Marius (Redmayne) feels a little overblown and tiresome: as a newcomer to the story, one wonders whether this is the fault of the source material or Hooper’s direction. There is still much to enjoy, however. The rivalry between Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe’s Javert is incredibly entertaining, with both giving their all in their performances as they try to best each other. Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter also shine as (much needed) comedy relief, with Cohen in particular mastering his comic timing to perfection. There is even a cameo from fan-favourite Colm Wilkinson as the kindly bishop, who played Valjean in the 1985-87 stage adaptation. The production design is also impressive: the sheer scale of it all is almost overwhelming at times, but Hooper’s dedication to intimacy ensures that the actors at no point get overshadowed by it.
Being a defiantly unrelenting musical, there are those who will scoff at it. Some have already had a giggle at the expense of its genre, which seems unfair considering the mastery on display. Tom Hooper will most likely be in the running for his second Oscar, which is hardly surprising and not wholly undeserved. A soaring epic, and a welcome return to a dying genre, Les Misérables has breathed life back into the film musical: an admirable achievement.