And so, I can now die a happy man – not only was Skyfall (2012) released last year and is clearly the best Bond ever, 2013 has begun with the big-screen musical adaptation of Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Cameron Mackintosh‘s amazing, world-beating show Les Miserables, with The King’s Speech (2010) director Tom Hooper at the helm. And…
…I have a confession to make, first up, and that is that I simply adore musicals. I have been made aware that there is apparently a Venn diagram that exists, which, taking some of my other tastes into consideration, such as horror films and fiction, would place me in the sociopath category, and I am not gay, but I cannot help it – musicals (a little like Woody Allen) divide the world squarely into them that do and them that don’t, and I am on the side of the angels. Watch it.
Anyway, it was at a cinema in London, while I was back in Blighty on business and decided I needed a night off, that I caught up with the film I have perhaps been awaiting with even more breathless anticipation than I was for Bond – you see, since around 1995, I have been a massive fan of the show, which is a peerless adaptation of the Victor Hugo classic, and have seen it on stage (London, Edinburgh, Sheffield and elsewhere) 25 (count ’em) times. It was actually the video of the special tenth anniversary of Les Miserables (it opened in 1985 to much critical carping, but what the hell did those critics know?) featuring the ‘dream cast’ (Colm Wilkinson, Michael Ball, Philip Quast et al) that first drew me to Les Mis, before I went to see it for the first time on stage in Bristol, 1996.
Enough of my history, let’s talk about Valjean (Hugh Jackman). In 1815, convict number 24601 Jean-Valjean is released on parole by prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean was originally sentenced to five years for stealing a loaf of bread to save his sister’s starving child but, because of his repeated escape attempts, his sentence was increased to 19 years. Forced to carry a yellow ticket of leave, which casts him as a marked man who is thus unable to find work, he is nevertheless offered food and shelter by the saintly Bishop of Digne, but he steals his silver during the night. He is caught by the authorities, but the Bishop confirms Valjean’s story that the silver was given as a gift (‘You forgot I gave these also, would you leave the best behind?’), which ensures Valjean’s release. Horrified by what he has been reduced to, and awe-struck by the Bishop’s kindness, Valjean breaks his parole and vows to begin an honest life under a new identity. Javert swears he will bring the escaped convict to justice.
Of course, there is so much more to the story than the above, and Valjean’s road to redemption is long, tortuous and ever-winding. For those unfortunate souls out there who have not seen the stage show (around 80 million people worldwide have), now you have absolutely no excuse to miss out on an experience of a lifetime – when I heard that Hooper had decided not to post-synchronize the recorded vocals to lip movements, I was very much afraid that a total hash would be made of the job, as occured with Peter Bogdanovich’s disastrous musical At Long Last Love (1975), which also did not use post-synchronization.
I need not have worried – the beautifully powerful, haunting lyrics translate marvellously to the screen, sung direct to camera as they are, and the approach gives the film as a whole the immediacy and excitement of watching the show live. Very little more to be said, really, except that if Anne Hathaway does not get the 2013 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as the tragic Fantine, whose child Cosette Valjean vows he will raise as a father, there is absolutely no justice. Forget ‘SuBo’ – I Dreamed A Dream, as sung by Hathaway, is the best version of the song that I have ever heard. Alright then, one more prediction to finish – I believe that Hooper’s incredible Les Miserables (2012) will be the first musical to lift the Best Picture gong since Chicago (2002). Definitely worth a flutter, but whatever you do, don’t miss out on seeing this, I implore you.