I read Victor Hugo’s unabridged novel Les Miserables as a teenager, then saw the stage production in Los Angeles and in Edmonton, so I thought I would be fully prepared for the majesty of Tom Hooper’s film adaptation.
As a huge fan of The King’s Speech, I couldn’t wait to see what he would make of the intense emotional upheaval of this heartwrenching nineteenth century tale.
The film is big and bold in every way.
All of the actors sing live, so the emotion is palpable and accessible. Les Miserables is a story about redemption and hope when it seems you are at rock bottom.
It centres on Jean Valjean, a convict who serves 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread, and the policeman Javert, who pursues him relentlessly without mercy when he breaks the terms of his parole.
Daniel Day-Lewis deserves the Oscar for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, but Hugh Jackman’s soaring baritone, particularly on the haunting Bring Him Home, should provide stiff competition.
He is the ideal Valjean, aging well throughout the years the film covers, and nails every one of his songs.
Russell Crowe gives a subdued but emotionally complex performance as Javert, a man who is driven mad by duty and cannot accept or offer kindness to anyone.
Eddie Redmayne plays Marius, the revolutionary who falls hard for the adult Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), and the timbre of his voice is unusual and stirring.
I didn’t think he would make a good Marius until he opened his mouth to sing his first song, and all of my doubts disappeared.
The real revelation, of course, is Anne Hathaway as the desperate Fantine. Her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream should be enough to guarantee her first Oscar win.
She makes you feel every nuance of her rage and disappointment; she holds nothing back and I felt chills up and down my spine whenever she was singing onscreen.
Les Miserables is too long at 2 hours and 40 minutes, but I was spellbound for every single moment.
It’s over the top in places, particularly with Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the scheming Thenardiers, but none of that bothered me.
I was more than willing to be swept away in a riptide of feeling. When Valjean sang, “To love another person is to see the face of God,” and the music built to its final moving crescendo, I wiped away tears and resisted the urge to jump to my feet and cheer, two certain signs that the movie achieved what it set out to do.
(3.5 out of 4 stars)
Bio: Julianne Harvey loves movies (and the popcorn at Empire Theatres!). She is the author of B The Wonder Bear and Authentic=Happy: A Guide to Dismantling Your Disguise.
She blogs at julianneharvey.com and is currently working on a spiritual memoir.