Directed by Tom Hooper and based on the musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, which is in turn based on the 1862 French novel by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables is set in 19th-century France against the backdrop of the 1832 Rebellion in Paris. Following the lives and interactions of several characters, the film focuses on ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who has spent decades being hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after breaking his parole and agreeing to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen/Amanda Seyfried).
Just to give a bit of background on my viewing of the film to start off with, firstly – I have not read the book, seen the theatre production or any of the other adaptations, so I went into this with a very open mind, and secondly – I do like musicals. However, to say you should only watch this if you like musicals would be wrong, as the genre of musicals is extremely varied. Lately, they are often mixed so much with comedy that they become laughable, for example Mamma Mia, Rock of Ages, and High School Musical. Les Misérables is something very much different.
With only a few words spoken throughout the whole film, the entire story is told through song. The film, therefore, relies heavily on its performances, which are – unsurprisingly – superb all around. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway are absolutely incredible in the main leads, and it is their characters who give the most impact. The fact that the cast all sang their songs live on set means that you get to hear every choke in their voices, and therefore feel every emotion that their characters are feeling. This is why scenes of Jackman and Hathaway stand out above all else; their characters aren’t made to look pretty when the cameras are put so close to their faces, and the actors aren’t made to sing every key perfectly (though they do a bloody good job of it despite their range of emotions whilst singing), instead their performances are all about looking and feeling as real as they can. The two undeniably deserve the awards they have received for their performances so far, but the whole cast is worthy of appraisal, though.
Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen bring in some much-needed comedy, as their characters really help to lighten the mood between constant scenes of despair, and they are absolutely hilarious every time they are on-screen together. What will really break your heart, though, is the relationship between Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks and Amanda Seyfried, who bring in the romantic side of the story. Eponine (Barks) is my favourite character in the whole film, as it’s not often that you get to see a character from her point of view. Her scenes are where I cried the most (my cry total was four!), as they bring in a sense of reality and pure passion to the unrelatable situation that they are in.
The addition of comedy and romance work amazingly well against the already compelling but deeply rooted story of hope and redemption, giving something for everybody to take away from the film. What draws you in even more, however, is the larger performances where whole groups of the cast come together. These songs work incredibly to make the audience feel a part of the revolution itself, especially with the final rousing chorus of “Do you hear the people sing?” This is a key quality of the film, completely drawing you into every character and situation, as you are made to feel both uplifted by their actions but also drawn to tears because of the consequences. The nearing on three-hour length was almost a drag, but whilst it felt like you had seen the whole lives of these characters during these – albeit compacted – three hours, the length works as more of a positive as you are able to engage with the characters entirely. Even Russell Crowe didn’t sound that bad.
Leaving the cinema in tears, I have to admit that this is genuinely one of the most powerful films I have ever seen, and it is another incredible piece of work by director Tom Hooper. Much like his previous film A King’s Speech, the sets and costumes of this period drama bring such colour to the already popular story and the whole choreography of the cast and their settings is done perfectly. I can’t help but love everything about it.
This is definitely one of the best musicals of recent years, if not, ever.