As the Westend’s second longest running musical with an audience of 60 million worldwide, Tom Hooper’s stage to screen adaptation is a highly anticipated challenge.
Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables
In short, the plot follows convict Jean Valjean’s (Hugh Jackman) extensive game of hide and seek with policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) in a live, entirely sung script, set against the backdrop of 19th century revolutionary France. Atop of this, the working class Fantine (Anne Hathaway) tries to support her daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) as she grows up and falls in love with revolutionary Marius (Eddie Reymayne), who himself is pined after by caring ragamuffin Éponine (Samantha Barks), daughter of shameless inn keepers the Thénardiers (Sacha Baron Cohan and Helen Bonham Carter).
The opening sequence of the film, saturated with CGI, is laughable, but this is automatically redeemed by the heart-pounding musical score which continues to give you shivers throughout. The town scenes, which attempt to add a Tim Burton-esque aesthetic to keep some of the fantasy of its stage equivalent intact, tend to look more like the crooked house of a nursery rhyme than the actual streets of France. Furthermore, the characters seem to merely have had their clothes hacked with scissors and their faces smeared with grease. When examined close up, this tends to remind us of why the visual element of the story works better on stage.
Despite being set in France, there are a variety of accents floating around. Sacha Baron Cohan, while providing some fantastic comic relief, switches from Bruno to Ali G in the space of a few words, whereas Hugh Jackman momentarily develops a Scottish flair in “Who Am I?”,’Russell Crowe is dull and unthreatening with a voice like a broken dog whistle, and Amanda Seyfried is merely a doe-eyed squeaky voice.
In spite of this, there are some amazing performances which more than justify the film’s nine BAFTAs and eight Academy Award nominations. Hugh Jackman is, in spite of his momentary crisis of nationality, perfect, changing from crazed homeless man with a stick (a very odd scene), to heroic and loving parent, all sung with a subtle richness and inherent kindness. Anne Hathaway bares her soul, with no tear or snot bubble supressed, in what has quickly become an iconic performance of “I Dreamed a Dream”. What the film allows, that the stage does not, is uncomfortable images of characters at their most broken, adding layers of grit, with Tom Hooper putting his own cinematic edge on the world-renowned musical.
The magic of Les Misérables, thus, remains strong. Eddie Redmayne’s rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is utterly bewitching, as is his performance with Samanatha Barks in “A Little Fall of Rain”. Every choral scene delivers the essence of musical brilliance, comradeship and spell bounding poignancy, reaffirming that Les Misérables is more than just a musical of misery. It leaves you singing for revolution and love.