First night review: Les Misérables, directed by Tom Hooper and starring Anne Hathaway

The impact of Hathaway as Fantine is even greater than on the stage, so overwhelming, literally, is the performance

Nicola Christie
Thursday 06 December 2012 18:45

In 1862, Victor Hugo wrote the book. In 1985, Alain Boublil and Claude Michel Schonberg wrote the show. And in 2012, Tom Hooper directed the movie.

To say that Les Miserables is going to be a hit is putting it mildly. Unlike the opening night of Trevor Nunn’s Barbican production, which produced poor reviews but staggering box office, this new production – which gives the characters of Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette a forever life – is going to go down in history for the way it tells a musical tale on the big screen.

A cast, that includes Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe and Eddie Redmayne, sing their dialogue rather than speak it – as they do in the musical, which was the first ‘through-sung’ – with a director, Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), who made this movie on the condition that his actors were allowed to sing live for the camera (ear-pieces attached to a nearby piano, following them).

The result is performances that are raw, real and devastating in their emotional punch; a camera stays tight on Anne Hathaway’s Fantine for the entire 3 minutes of her "I Dreamed A Dream" and, if at all possible, the impact is even greater than on the stage, so overwhelming, literally, is the performance.

Not only has Hooper cast so well – Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Banks and Amanda Seyfried are natural singers so they power the story along – but he composes so well; great set numbers like At The End Of The Day or Master Of The House are transposed to the screen with sensitivity, imagination, and supreme craftsmanship - bringing to a much larger and more vivid life than has ever been possible before, the story of Victor Hugo’s everyman, Jean Valjean, who once made the mistake of stealing a mouthful of bread and went on to experience redemption during the 1832 Paris Uprising.

Hugo’s voice is present throughout – for those who’ve read the book – as is new material from Alain Boublil and Claude Michel Schoenberg, who give Valjean a new song to accompany his journey with the young Cosette, having saved her from the rotten Thernardiers (brilliantly delivered by Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, the only character who gets new lines: “Colette? Courgette? Cosette?”).

Cameron Mackintosh and Alain Boublil and Claude Michel Schoenberg have waited 27 years to make this show into a movie, with directors including Steven Spielberg variously vying for the gig. They were right to wait and right to pounce on Tom Hooper when he came along. He’s reinvented the movie musical and created a whole new generation of Les Mis lovers. It’s a dream nobody could have dreamed.

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