The grand, orchestration opening and the image of a ship being pulled by dozens of tired and oppressed men and the opening words of “Look Down” and already I had Goosebumps. This was a musical adaptation I was extremely looking forward to, potentially more for the fact that I love anything Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman are in, rather than my love for the musical. I have seen the stage version of Les Misérables but that was a couple of years ago and I didn’t follow it very well. Now that I’m older I felt I could appreciate it so much more and appreciate it I did!
The story spans across decades and is split into three sections – the first sees the protagonist Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) finishing his 19 year stint in prison after stealing a loaf of bread for himself and his sister’s family. Hugh Jackman really does look totally unrecognisable in the first 20 minutes of so – he lost a lot of weight and for the opening scene in the prison he didn’t drink any water for 36 hours beforehand to make him look as old and weary as possible. He is released from prison and from his jailer Javert (Russell Crowe). The first interaction between Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman was fantastic and that standard was kept up throughout the entire movie. Their scenes together oozed hatred and tension and were electrifying to watch. The two characters are the two constants across the film. Valjean is at his lowest ebb – an ex-convict, he is met with prejudice and rejection at every turn until a chance encounter with a priest reignites his faith in God and in himself (personally his soliloquy is one of my favourite in this movie and left me feeling breathless with that last note).
The second section starts and it has been eight years since Valjean was released from prison and he is now a respectable businessman and at this point we meet Fantine (Anne Hathaway) perhaps the biggest ‘miserable’ in this musical. She has a small child that is living with innkeepers and she sends money to them, but after an altercation with the creepy foreman she is fired. In desperation she sells her possessions, her hair and even her teeth, turning to prostitution to make ends meet. Her performance of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ is raw and heartbreaking. The anger at the way her life has turned out and the sadness radiates off her expressions and her vocals portray the same desperation and realness to Fantine’s plight. All in all she is on screen for around 15 minutes but her performance is breathtaking and after already picking up the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress I truly hope to see her stood on that Oscar stage with the award in her hand.
Fantine dies of exhaustion and disease, but before this she is found by Valjean and he promises to look after her child, Cosette. Whilst all this is going on, Valjean crosses paths with Jalvert again and a game of cat and mouse between the two characters is initiated, ongoing throughout the entire film. Valjean rescues Cosette from her life with the crooked innkeepers, (played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter brilliantly, offering dark comedic humour whenever they pop up through the film) we jump nine years into the future where Valjean is older and greyer, and Cosette is a young woman (now played by Amanda Seyfried). The streets of Paris are filled with revolutionaries and we meet Eddie Redmayne’s Marius, who falls in love with the beautiful Cosette; this turns out to be extremely unfortunate for Eponine (played by Samantha Barks who some may remember from Andrew Llyoyd Webber’s search for Nancy) who is in fact in love with the young revolutionary. The three are locked in an agonizing love triangle, and Barks and Redmayne give a fantastic performance, both sounding beautiful and giving true emotions. Even though I am a fan of Seyfried, I have to say her portrayal of Cosette didn’t do a lot for me and as a character I wasn’t as emotionally invested in her as I was for other characters.
In the end, the revolutionaries all die horrible deaths at the barricade (including Eponine) with Marius escaping with the help of Valjean. Jalvert commits suicide and Marius and Cosette reunite and wed. Valjean retreats to die alone, but just before he dies, Marius and Cosette find him and he dies, the movie ending with a heart-warming rendition of ‘Do you Hear the People Sing’ from those that died through the film. The director Tom Hooper does a marvellous job brining everything together; the live music really makes the performances more real and gives it extra emotion. The one criticism I can give is the sets within the streets of Paris seem very small and you can almost sense the fact they are soundstages. However, once you get past this the movie takes you on a rollercoaster and hopefully revolutionises movie musicals, encouraging more to take the same approach as Hooper and allow the actors to sing live. You leave the movie feeling emotionally drained and I would recommend this movie for anyone that is a fan of a good musical.
Jean Valjean: My name is Jean Valjean.
Jalvert: And I am Jalvert. Do not forget my name. Do not forget ME….24601 (Les Misérables)