Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway • Directed by Tom Hooper • Age restriction: 13V • Releases 18 January
It is one of the most successful shows of all times and has produced some of the most recognisable pieces of music in show-business - now the iconic Les Miserables has received the big screen treatment. And what a treatment it is.
Directed by Tom Hooper - who won an Academy Award for his work on The King's Speech - Les Miserables brings together a stellar cast, including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway. Based on Victor Hugo's source novel, Les Miserables is immense and moving, and tells the story of former convict Jean Valjean (Jackman) as he attempts to find redemption after breaking his parole and spending two decades dodging the attention of the policeman Javert (Crowe). Valjean takes on responsibility for the child Cosette, the illegitimate daughter of the former factory worker, turned prostitute Fantine (Hathaway) - and becomes embroiled in a rebellion masterminded by some of the youth of Paris.
What makes Les Miserables a very different - and very brave musical adaptation - is to have the cast sing live to the camera, instead of recording the performances in the studio and lip-synching to the tracks later. This lends to a greater sense of immersion - which is only increased by Hooper's insistence on long, hand-held close-ups of his actors (more on that later). It means that performances are raw, real, emotional - and yes, imperfect. But it is this imperfection that provides some of the most exquisitely moving moments of the film.
Leading the cast of actors are incredible performances by Jackman and Hathaway - who have already picked up Golden Globe Awards for their trouble. Jackman - himself a stage veteran and a Tony Award winner - pulls the film through two decades and over two-and-a-half hours of running time, providing a visceral and committed performance that carries through some of the weaker moments and performances of the film. His transformation throughout - from haggard, excruciatingly thin former prisoner to the rich and kind-hearted factory owner, and further - Jackman is physically and vocally a triumph.
Hathaway's turn as Fantine has been one of the films biggest talking points - and she seems to be barrelling headway to Oscar glory at the moment. While she is on screen for only a fraction of the running time, when Hathaway appears she is utterly commanding. Her version of I Dreamed a Dream is one of the film's major highlights - and accompanied by an incredible, tight single shot is also one of the most raw and gut-wrenching moments. This is no pretty and controlled Susan Boyle version - Hathaway is near-hysterical and utterly, utterly incredible. She has been criticised for playing for Oscar votes and for "over-acting" - something I disagree with - but regardless, when you leave the cinema, one way or another Hathaway's performance will be etched into your mind.
Aside from these two stand-outs, Eddie Redmayne of My Week With Marilyn fame makes a solid turn as the young lover Marius, and with veteran Samantha Barks as Eponine (who had played the same role in the 25th Anniversary concert), provides a stunning rendition of Just a Little Rain, while Barks' version of On My Own was spell-binding. Meanwhile, Amanda Seyfried provides a wide-eyed, high-pitched portrayal of Fantine's daughter and Valjean's adopted child Cossette that wasn't particularly memorable in the grand scheme of the rest of the film. I found Seyfried grating - and it was possibly for this reason that I wasn't as onboard with the young lovers as Hooper might have liked.
Also solid - but little more than that - was Russell Crowe as Javert. Crowe - who has fronted a number of rock bands in his time - was gruff and dependable as the inspector, but somehow seemed wooden and disconnected - and thus unable to be connected with. His scenes with Jackman are his best, with the two complementing each other, but his two major solo moments seemed somewhat empty, and Javert's moment of redemption seemed hollow.
And audience favourites in Hooper's film, no doubt, will be the thieving innkeepers - Madame et Monsieur Thénardier - done to a turn by Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen. It is inspired casting, and the duo will no doubt snap some audience members out of their stupor - for as good as it is, Les Miserables will not be everybody's cup of tea.
Bringing a sung-through musical to the big screen - where even in musicals, audiences are used to more speech than song - was no doubt challenging, and required obvious changes to the source material, with some songs being cut and others omitted entirely to keep the running time to some semblance of a reasonable length. Despite these cuts, Les Miserables is still very long, bleak, and utterly harrowing viewing - and yet is one of the most incredible experiences I've had in cinema in recent years.
But yes, at times, you may find yourself wishing you could skip through a track here and there to hurry things up again - and this is largely a fault of Hooper's repetitive camera angles and cinematic techniques. Hooper is an immense fan of tight close-ups, with the result that for much of the film you feel as though you're five centimetres away from the actors' left nostril. Sure, it's meant to add intimacy and intensity - which it does, for the first third of the film and is used to great effect in I Dreamed a Dream - but after a while, the close-up gets old. There are only so many times you can examine the freckles on Marius' face, and after a while I found myself more focused on how chubby Crowe looked. There's nowhere to look, and if the singing is less than spellbinding, the fun goes out of the viewing pretty quickly.
Nevertheless, Les Miserables' costume and set design is excellent - it is shot in a largely bleak, grey palette (it is 19th Century France, after all, and if it's not raining - it's snowing) - with the exception of Cosette's appearances, where she is largely angelic and utterly luminous. Hooper mixes in some great scenic shots of 19th Century France - mixing it up from the largely claustrophobic feel of the film, which takes place in dark spaces, cramped bars, stone churches or barricaded streets.
Les Miserables will no doubt delight fans of the stage musical - look out for a great appearance by Colm Wilkinson, who played Valjean in the original London and Broadway cast - and expect more than a few tears to be shed.
It is an imperfect film - I've seen it described as "bombastic", which it is in some of its weaker moments - but Hooper's Les Miserables is an incredible cinematic experience, carried by some astounding performances by its stars.
Watch a trailer for the film below: