Les Misérables


It took French author Victor Hugo fifteen years to complete what is not only considered his best work, but one of the greatest novels of all time - Les Misérables - published in 1862.

You have to wonder how he would have felt about it being turned into a hugely successful musical, with his story of the working class of France uprising during the French Revolution, now being sung to an impressive tune commercially, making it one of the world most successful musicals. Would Hugo have approved, tapping his foot to some of the numbers, humming “I Dreamed a Dream” on his way out, with a half packet of Revels in his pocket?

It’s a story that has been adapted numerous times for the screen, but the definitive musical screen version must surely belong to Tobe Hooper’s 2012 film, that’s being re-released celebrating its twelfth anniversary.

boom reviews Les Miserables
I'm Hugh Jackman, if I want to steal a child, I will.

1815, Paris, and having serve 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is finally released on parole. His prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe) wants him to know however, that if he breaks his parole, he’ll be back in prison before he knows it.

After an initial scare, Valjean decides to tear his parole papers up, and take on a new identity, which he does well with, becoming mayor of Montreuil, and managing to go unnoticed for eight years. However, after a young woman, Fantine (Anne Hathaway) gets inadvertently fired from his factory, her life soon spirals out of control.

By the time Valjean sees her again, Fantine is at an all time low working as a prostitute, and gets into trouble with a client, who calls for the police. Valjean intervenes, hoping to smooth things over, but is chilled to the bone when he sees that the chief of police who turns up is actually Javert.

This sets off a chain of events that continue through the rise of the revolution, with Javert making it his mission to bring Valjean to justice.

boom reviews Les Miserables
That'll teach me not to arm wrestle Jackman again.

British born director Hooper, who actually cut his teeth on a number of British TV shows including EastEnders and Byker Grove, pulled out all the stops for this impressive musical.

It is a dark and gritty interpretation, despite characters singing continuously throughout, making it feel more like a drama that just so happens to have songs, as opposed to an out and out musical.

Helping to reinforce that are some incredible performances, such as Jackman in the leading role. Having cemented his action credentials playing Wolverine in numerous Marvel films, playing Valjean gave him the opportunity to indulge a big love in his life, musical theatre, on the big screen for the first time. Under Hooper’s direction, his Valjean is a man keen to keep his word, serious minded, despite expressing his emotions through the medium of song. It’s a performance that certainly deserved his Oscar nomination. It was a fellow star who went one further however.

Although Hathaway doesn’t have a lot of screen time, in the grand scheme of things – considering the film’s hefty duration of nearly 2hours 40 mins – she is utterly mesmerising as Fantine, and not only steals the show, she was awarded Best Oscar too, and quite rightly so.

Close on her tails is Samantha Barks, who made her screen debut in the film playing Épone, having performed in the West End in the stage show. It’s yet another performance that reeks of emotion, and it’s surprising that actress didn’t go on to bigger and better things after its release.

All these years on and Hooper’s film still manages to astonish, with some incredibly touching moments that could bring a tear to the eye of the most cynical of souls.

It has to be said it may be hard work if musicals aren’t your thing, especially as its length does occasionally feel as if the French revolution is playing out in real time, and you crave for a spoken word or two, just as some respite.

That said, Hooper, who sadly appears to have gone into hiding after the release of another musical – the less successful 2019 Cats - has created an enthralling piece of work, that still remains not only the definitive musical version of Hugo’s work, but a yardstick (or whatever it’s known as in French) by which all musicals since will automatically be compared with as the gold standard.

we give this four out of five