When the screenings of Les Miserables were pushed back from December to January thanks to the Metro Manila Film Festival, many die-hard fans who couldn’t wait one day more to see the musical-turned-film cried out in despair. In desperation, some left the country to catch the movie while others scoured torrent sites to find a decent copy.
And when the Philippine gala premiere originally scheduled on the 9th of January at Resorts World Manila was cancelled due to ‘technical difficulties’, even more fans were crushed by the prolonged suffering of a screening as late as January 16.
Those who have watched the film abroad, however, can very much say that the wait is well worth it. The movie is more than just the stage version brought to life under the brilliant direction of Tom Hooper. Scenes from the book also made it to the big screen.
Les Miserables tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), an ex-convict, who goes from a life of hate and misery, to one of honesty and virtue. He breaks his parole and is hunted down by police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe).
In time, Valjean becomes the respectable mayor of a small town who offers help to those in need, including the troubled Fantine (Anne Hathaway), whose death would mark a turning point in his life. He adopts her daughter as played by Isabelle Allen, who makes her film debut as the young Cosette.
In the second half of the film, nine years would have passed since Fantine’s death; General Lemarque is dead, and his students Enjolras (Aaron Tevit) and Marius (Eddie Redmayne) have started a revolution, having built the infamous barricade. Amidst all of the gunpowder, blood and rain, a love triangle forms between Eponine (Samantha Barks), Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). An aged Valjean, as Cosette’s foster father, tries to protect Cosette from the truth about his past life, and from the ever-determined Javert.
The stellar cast performs their songs with intensity. Audiences will surely scream over Anne Hathaway’s raw version of I Dreamed A Dream, and laugh at the Thenardiers’ (played by the deliciously wicked Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) cheap and kooky antics in “Master of the House”. Hugh Jackman, who has an impressive theater career (as well as a Tony Award), plays Valjean with such care and power, ranging from distraught to vulnerable to fatherly while hitting the notes. Anne Hathaway’s vivacious portrayal as Fantine is also praiseworthy, and has not gone unnoticed by critics and awards.
The cast also features some familiar faces, such as Colm Wilkinson, who plays the original Valjean in both West End and Broadway Versions of “Les Mis” and comes full circle, playing the bishop who originally saves Valjean. Frances Rufelle, the original Eponine in both productions, plays a prostitute in the backdrop. Hadley Fraser, who starred as Javert in West End, plays a gendarme in the film, while Samantha Barks, who played Eponine not only in the West End, but also during the 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Miserables, returns to the movie adaptation as the same character.
Although Tom Hooper’s direction involves, many, many facial close-ups that are a little too close for comfort, the stunning visuals, such as the ship in the opening scene and the red flags waving in the barricade, make up for it. Aside from the theatricality of the film, he brings the viewer back to a romantic era France, where the revolution is in vogue.
The film lives up to its hype, with such impressive visuals and equally (if not, more) impressive vocals that bring Victor Hugo’s classic novel to life, leaving audiences hearing the people sing the songs of angry men.