Film review – Les Miserables

“Do you hear the people sing?  Singing a song of angry men?

It is the music of a people

Who will not be slaves again”

The English language version of the musical Les Miserables first opened in October 1985.  The latest film version is directed by Tom Hooper and boasts a heavy weight cast, almost like a dictionary of ‘who’s who?’ in the acting world.  I had virtually no prior knowledge of Les Miserables prior to seeing the film, I’ve never really been into musicals.  I went along hoping to enjoy the film, but slightly cynical given the hype around it.

I’m happy to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It moves at a good pace and flows nicely.  It did not feel like 2 hours and 38 minutes.  The story begins with Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman), being paroled from his sentence of hard labour.  Angry at the lengthy sentence he received for stealing a loaf of bread, he decides to break his parole conditions and ‘disappear’.  The film keeps track of his progress and those people he encounters along the way, culminating with the Paris based June rebellion in 1832.  This was a small scale uprising lasting only 2 days.

In most musical films the actors mime and songs are recorded in a studio and overdubbed.  However director Tom Hooper was determined to have the songs sang and recorded on set during filming.  It is extremely difficult to get this to work well, other directors have tried and failed; but when it works it really works!  It is difficult to convey in words the strength and sense of reality the film gains by being filmed this way, you will have to see it for yourself, but trust me, it works :)   Some superb cinematography and editing also play a big part in the feel and quality of the film.

All of the cast give an excellent performance but the actors who shine are Hugh Jackman (in the part of Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (in the part of Javert) and Anne Hathaway (in the part of Fantine).

If I had a criticism, it would be the presence of a few ‘Cockney’ accents, it threw me somewhat….. I was there, completely absorbed, in Paris France, then this young boy chirps up who looks and sounds like he’s just walked off the set of Oliver!  I guess they thought overall performance was more important than realism.

The other point I would make is that this flows so well you kind of forget it’s a musical and just follow the story.  That said, if you detest musicals in all shapes and forms, give it a miss; as it is still a musical and it is quite long.  I think fans of musicals will adore it and those who are neutral may be pleasantly surprised, like I was :)

See it if you liked:  Sweeny Todd

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