Film review: Les Miserables (12A)

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FILM
Les Miserables
(12A) 157mins
★★★★✩

IN A NUTSHELL
The ultimate musical, picked apart for its string of hits, returns to its stage roots, only on screen, in Tom Hooper's diligent pop opera video.

REVIEW
Here's something delightful - the reverse jukebox musical. Elsewhere songs (from Abba, Spice Girls et al) have had to generate a narrative on which to hang their scattergun ditties.

Here, a selection of memorable melodies finds a comfortable home alongside a cohesive narrative. Almost like it was planned.

So ubiquitous are the classics (I Dreamed A Dream, Bring Him Home, One More Day etc) they have become divorced from their original purpose. Suddenly, set anew against a stunning, stagy backdrop (including another star turn by Greenwich) they make sense all over again.

The result is a wonder - not without flaws - and a trauma, requiring the best bulldog spirit to stem the tears.

I am so biased in favour of Les Mis that a film adaptation of the much-cherished musical was set against a phalanx of prejudices.

The experience is akin to seeing your first love, who sings in the bath, appear on The X-Factor - same music, same intimacy but in a grander setting. In public. Familiar yet out of context.

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But all the headline stars give strong vocal performances. Hugh Jackman as tormented Jean Valjean, on the run from policeman Javert (Russell Crowe); Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, Valjean's adopted daughter; Samantha Barks as love-lorn Eponine.

Top of the list though are Anne Hathaway as Fantine and Eddie Redmayne, who is a revelation as revolutionary romancer Marius.

Hathaway's I Dreamed A Dream steals the show (the camera stays with her for every heartbreaking second till it's unbearable) while Redmayne's Empty Chairs At Empty Tables is viscerally raw.

The much-heralded pairing of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the light-fingered inn-keepers are much the most disappointing of the entertainers.

They touch on the weakness of an otherwise diligent production by director Tom Hooper - that is, lack of nuance and range.

Pathos is there in bucketloads but comedy and - more essentially - fury are missing. There is plenty of anger in the story - anger at God, circumstance, fate and power. But that section of the palette has been cauterised, the edge blunted.

Where is Colm Wilkinson (the West End's first and best Valjean) when you need him? Oh yes, he plays the Bishop. Nice touch.

Hooper handles the action well and the visuals are superb - degradation hasn't looked this good since Dickens with Caravaggio in charge of the baroque set design and lighting but this falls just short of being a classic.

But I'll wager this movie will be a DVD blockbuster. Its length precludes too many viewings but as a soundtrack with visuals, it is unsurpassed.