After 28 years, Les Misérables, the world’s longest-running stage musical, finally reaches the screen – and it’s a triumph.
Even if you’re no fan of the show and think the lyrics doggerel and the music dreary (‘lobotomized opera’ to give one snippy dismissal), it’s hard not to be bowled over by the barnstorming gusto shown by director Tom Hooper and his cast.
Of course, substantial credit is due to the unquenchable melodramatic power of Victor Hugo’s original story, which follows ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) on his epic journey of redemption in early-19th-century France, pursued for 17 years by vengeful police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe).
From the film’s majestic opening shots of storm-lashed prisoners hauling a massive sailing ship into dock, Hooper reveals that he has conceived his screen version on an eye-poppingly grand scale. But it’s when his camera gets close that the full extent of his daring becomes apparent – the actors are performing the show’s dialogue-free through-sung score live, not lip-synching to pre-recorded tracks.
The pay-off is enormous, particularly in the story’s most intimate moments, as when Anne Hathaway’s destitute seamstress Fantine sings ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ in one unbroken, SuBo-charged take. The Oscar is probably in the bag from this scene alone.
Hathaway’ co-stars don’t all measure up to her vocally but their full-throated commitment is undeniably impressive, from Jackman’s indomitable Valjean and Crowe’s implacable Javert (better than you’ve heard) to the story’s young lovers, Amanda Seyfried’s dewy-eyed Cosette (Fantine’s daughter, adopted by Valjean) and Eddie Redmayne’s ardent student revolutionary Marius.
With Hooper, in his first film since The King’s Speech, masterfully orchestrating the action, it’s all done with such sincerity that – notwithstanding ripe comic relief from Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as grasping innkeepers Monsieur and Madame Thénardier – any remaining niggles about the latent absurdity of the enterprise are utterly banished. By the time the story reaches its stirring climax during the Paris Rebellion of 1832, you’ll be ready rush to the barricades, too. And you might even leave the cinema singing.
In cinemas from Friday 11th January.
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