They dreamed a dream, and now it’s come true. Let Les Mis fans and cinema-goers a like smile amidst the misery, for, the 27 year old stage musical of Victor Hugo’s thumping novel wraps the silver screen in tricolour for a diabolically potent combination of Lionel Bart and Leni Riefenstahl style showcasing.
Boasting squalor, sentiment, cascading coincidence, heart and fortune, and a heaving cast of orphans, red lights and rogues. The glums unfolds, with confident spectacle, on a monumental scale. This sung-through musical is a panorama of Paris belonging to cinema, but at its soul: it is pure opera.
Yes – Tom Hooper may as well have appeared, between certificate and opening scene, as a Hickockian analepsis pointing at the wringer we were about to go through. Because, personal barricade, or not, every line, every note, every scene is belted out with such diaphragm-quivering sincerity and continuous, unremitting intensity, that the physical strength of this movie can do nothing but impress. It is an awe-inspiring and colossal crack that can make the biggest bruiser whimper.
And the winner for most affecting scene goes to Anne Hathaway’s just-hand-her-an-Oscar performance of ‘I Dreamed a Dream.’ The head-shot close-up of her sprechgesang version is both emotive and tear jerking. There’s an authentic gleam of desperation in her mournful brown eyes, and the vocal interpretation of her treatment is unsparing. Of course, in close second is Eddie Redmayne, who seems to pour his heart and soul into ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ – there really wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Of course, Jackman anchors the film with a rare sense of sturdy compassion, and while at first you wince at his vocal performance your eyes are left widened and your brows sky-high as Valjean, astonished and moved by the Christ-like charity of the Bishop, (the original Valjean, Colm Wilkinson) sings a soliloquy directly to camera, eyes blazing with a new knowledge and falsetto. There’s no doubt about it, this scene packs a massive punch and as Valjean’s torn paper circles the skies and Jackman belts “another story must begin”, thus starts the spine-tingling epic and Jackman’s long running succession of leading man performances.
And then there was the real shocker: gladiator toughie Russell Crowe. Though the least powerful singer, Crowe does a startlingly impressive job of humanising Javert so that he becomes not a melodramatic villain, but a rounded human capable of redemption. And his singing is so sweetly unselfconscious that there is something paradoxically engaging about his Javert, even when he’s being a cruel, unbending law-officer and royalist spy.
While Hathaway’s performance detracts from the other two starlets, Samantha Barks and Amanda Seyfried play an admirable Eponine and Cosette, respectively. Movie break-out Barks performs a “nice” version of fandom-favourite ‘On My Own’ while Mamma-Mia star Amanda Seyfriend applies her beautiful soprano to the innocent make-up of Cosette, but with no real character to play she falls short of any show-stealing performance a-la Hathaway’s ‘I Dreamed a Dreamed’.
Completing the love triangle is west-end tottie Eddie Redmayne. His ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ was a haunting rendition of loneliness and remorse, presenting the full versatility of his vocal range while finally swapping his stage for screen to promote his strength as an actor at large.
Lest we forget the little league; for, could there possible have been one better than Daniel Huttlestone? His cutsie, but ever-so talented performance as Gavroche near stole the show as well as my heart. Gavroche is a melting pot of necessity in Les Miserables and this West-End wonder is the perfect cast. And of course, the silver lining to any miserable cloud is Isabelle Allen’s sickly sweet solo of ‘Castle on a Cloud’.
And, comic relief comes in the form of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen who provide a dark dose of filthy comedy as the Thenardiers, a couple of indestructible grotesques on the make.
As a Les Mis diehard, Hooper’s novice musical directorial had me on tender hooks, but contracting his cast to sing live on camera, aiming to replicate the spontaneity and freshness that have bewitched fans of the stage show – meant Tom Hooper caught me hook, line and sinker. It was breathtaking to see the staging on a scale which could never be mimicked on the stage of our red velveteen theatres.
Take my word for it, come the wrenching, rousing finale, there won’t be a dry eye in the house. The final tableau of the cast, climbing the ladder of big-screen success, back on the barricade to sing their hearts out again, dead or alive, gave me goose bumps and Tom Hooper a standing-O.
This is one journo saying, with a heart full of love: Les Misérables is more than just a musical of misery; it leaves you singing for revolution and love.