A gorgeous film if not quite a classic, “Les Misérables” is a beautiful interpretation of the stage production based on the Victor Hugo novel that first was published in 1862. Not surprisingly, it’s a sight to see, and it’s directed by Tom Hooper, who helmed “The King’s Speech.”
Both the book and the musical are set in the 1800s, and this adaptation is a lavish one with intricate costumes, a cast of seemingly thousands and incredible architecture and vast backgrounds.
Hugh Jackman (almost unrecognizable at the beginning) is prisoner Jean Valjean who is being released after serving a lengthy sentence for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child.
Over the years, Valjean has become a constant irritant to Police Capt. Javert (Russell Crowe), who promises to keep an eye out for the beleaguered ex-convict. Valjean is spurned everywhere he goes until he makes his way to the home of a kindly bishop (Colm Wilkinson), who shows him compassion.
Valjean eventually becomes a well-to-do factory owner who comes to the rescue of Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a woman who has been forced into prostitution. Fantine has left her daughter Cosette in the care of two innkeepers (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen), and Valjean, feeling sorry for the critically ill woman, promises to find the girl and keep her safe.
In case you aren’t familiar with the story, I won’t go into more detail to avoid spoilers. I can tell you that there is little dialogue, and that this is a true musical, with most of the story expressed in song (just wait until you hear Hathaway belt out “I Dreamed a Dream” — bravo!). Battles, romance and drama all are part of the story.
It’s great to see Crowe in this starring role. He regularly performs live with his band (for music aficionados unfamiliar with Crowe’s musical talent, check out youtube.com for Crowe’s Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts’ “Sail Those Same Oceans Again”). I have enjoyed his music for many years, and it’s nice to see his solid vocals here.
Although this is a well-done adaptation, it doesn’t pack the same punch as the novel, nor is it as compelling as previous dramatic renditions of “Les Miserables,” which include details about Valjean that are omitted here.
Still, the framework of the plot remains mostly intact. And the music is enjoyable — it’s a yuletide delight that will leave musical lovers anything but miserable.