Published Thursday, 17 January 2013
I left the cinema with my spirits soaring, a tear in my eye and song in my heart.
Les Miserables is a tour-de-force by Oscar winning director Tom Hooper, who takes us on a roller coaster of emotions through the gripping narrative of Victor Hugo's classic 1862 novel and the high voltage performances of the landmark stage show. We are transported back to early 19th century France, a troubled land divided by poverty and privilege, revolution and redemption, hatred and love.
The story begins on a grand scale with a huge ship being dragged ashore during an almighty storm by a scraggy line of convicts. Here, we meet our unlikely hero, prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) incarcerated for 19 years for stealing a simple loaf of bread. Overseeing this injustice is the brutal Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) who, even after Valjean is released, continues to ruthlessly pursue him.
On the outside, Valjean is given a second chance by a benevolent Bishop (played by Colm Wilkinson - the original stage Valjean), who instead of turning him over to the authorities for stealing the church silver, sets him free. "Why did I allow that man to touch my soul and teach me love?" wails Valjean, "He treated me like any other, he gave me his trust, he called me brother." This simple act of forgiveness, turns his world of darkness upside down.
Hugh Jackman is sensational as zero to hero Valjean. The multi-talented Australian has always been one of Hollywood's most versatile performers, few can sing, dance and act like him. Here, he combines all three to glorious effect. And perhaps his most underrated quality is his greatest, Jackman is just so darn likeable.
Director Hooper's decision to record the actors singing live on set with only a piano accompaniment, brings a raw and emotional punch to every song. None more so, than Anne Hathaway's stunning rendition of 'I Dreamed A Dream'. Hathaway plays tragic young mother Fantine, who has fallen down to a desperate life of destitution. In one long spellbinding take, she sends shivers down your spine "I had a dream my life would be" Fantine cries "So different from this hell I'm living."
Les Mis in the second half introduces a great young cast, including Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks and Tyrone's Fra Fee who infuse the explosive action with powerful numbers like 'Do You Hear The People Sing', 'On My Own' and 'Empty Chairs At Empty Tables'.
If there is a down side, it is simply the cinema experience itself. For, at over two and half hours long, Les Miserables is a lengthy watch in one sitting and would benefit greatly from a short intermission. At the theatre, the viewing experience is greatly enhanced by the interval, where you can stretch your legs, take a much needed toilet break and compose your emotions.
No such comfort here, but if you can find the stamina to remain seated, by the end of this impassioned triumph you will be standing to applaud.
Les Miserable (Cert 12a) is now on general release