Review: Les Miserables

Les Miserables

Les Miserables - Credit: Archant

They're French and they're unhappy, that's only to be expected, but why do they sing? All the time they sing. They sing hello, they sing about what they are doing, what they are going to do next and, most of all, they sing about how hard done by they are.

Everything is sung; everything except songs.

Apparently Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg's musical comes equipped with a full assortment of songs but the only two I could only make out from the general cacophony of talky singing were Helen Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen's knockabout comic number Master of the House and endless variations of I Dreamed a Dream by the rest of the cast.

Catchy tunes? Well, they certainly bludgeon their way into the head. Once there I found that Master of the House kept morphing into Joe Dulce's Shaddap You Face.

The West End's longest running musical is a very odd creation, an all-singing, some dancing trudge through two decades of intergenerational misery, filled with bellowed gloom and rip-roaring laments. The whole thing looks like it is taking place in some thermonuclear winter with lots of scenes filled with swirling snowdrops that resemble ash blown over from a nearby bonfire set against dark skies. It's like a Fame Gulag, filled with stage school performers doing a fanatically joyless re-write of Oliver.

If you have never seen Les Miserables, but are curious to find out why it has been such a phenomenon, you should think very carefully about sating that curiosity. It's an excruciating 157 minutes for the non-believer. If you simply love the show then you may well simply love the film.

After his Oscar triumph with The King's Speech, Tom Hooper again proves himself to be the proverbial safe pair of hands. The obvious urge to open it out has been resisted and Hooper has left the piece more or less where he found it. Les Mis is a musical that is unlikely to thrive far from its natural habitat so for all its big CGI scenes, Hooper's version is quite stagebound.

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The best service a film version can offer is to give the audience a closer appreciation of the performances and this it does by having all of them sing live, often in long unbroken shots.

And the performances are strong. Hugh Jackman and Anna Hathaway are dab hands at this kind of speaky singing, though Russell Crowe seems a little constrained by the discipline, like he wants to burst out into an actual song.

Even I could appreciate Hathaway's powerful performances of I Dreamed a Dream which had a packed audience bursting into applause. Clapping in a cinema, I ask you — these uncouth theatre-going vulgarians!


Directed: Tom Hooper

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anna Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen

Length: 157 mins