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FILM REVIEW Les Misérables

Going Out
Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway have both been honoured for their roles in Tom Hooper’s screen adaptation of ‘Les Misérables’.
Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway have both been honoured for their roles in Tom Hooper’s screen adaptation of ‘Les Misérables’.

Man on the run

Daniel Carey

IT’S the most famous musical duel in cinema – Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) belting out ‘La Marseillaise’ in Rick’s Café in ‘Casablanca’ in opposition to a group of German officers singing ‘Die Wacht am Rhein’. The Nazis are eventually drowned out as patriotic fervour sweeps the crowd, and Yvonne (Madeline LeBeau), who has been sitting at the bar with her German boyfriend, shouts: “Vive la France!”
That shout goes out again near the climax of ‘Les Misérables’, Tom Hooper’s 158-minute adaptation of the musical inspired by Victor Hugo’s sprawling novel. And as we left the cinema to a rousing chorus of ‘Do You Hear The People Sing?’, I told my companion that, at that moment, I was willing to die for France. (That feeling has since passed, just in case my mother is reading this and fears I’m about to be deployed in Mali.)
‘Lay-Miz’, to use the phonetic abbreviation, opens in 1815, just as Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) finishes a 19-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. (If you hear strains of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ at this point, it’s all in your head.) And so begins a game of cat and mouse with his jailer, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who pursues him over the decades for breaking the terms of his parole.
Colm Wilkinson, who originally played the lead on stage, turns up as a clergyman who does Valjean two good turns. Eight years later, Valjean has reinvented himself and meets Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a young woman forced into prostitution. He vows to care for her child Cosette, who’s being ‘cared for’ by rip-off merchants Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. Amanda Seyfried later pops up as the adult Cosette. She falls for Marius (the excellent Eddie Redmayne), a revolutionary student, just before the anti-monarchist uprising of 1832.

The late Noël Kirrane, veteran of many musicals in Ballinrobe and Tuam, said the form was ‘no better or no worse than straight drama – just harder to do!’ ‘Les Misérables’ is best known for ‘I Dreamed A Dream’, which Golden Globe winner Hathaway serves up very differently to Susan Boyle. This is a ‘sung through’ undertaking with very little spoken dialogue, though few of the tunes stay in your head for long.
All the singing was done live on set – a brave call given that many of the actors don’t have musical backgrounds. Jackman is an exception, and has landed a Golden Globe for a performance that somehow holds the whole thing together.
As the name hints, ‘Les Misérables’ isn’t exactly a laugh a minute. ‘Master of the House’, a tune about the crooked ways of an innkeeper and his wife, provides some much-needed light relief. It’s reminiscent of ‘You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two’ from ‘Oliver!’, and it’s hard not to hear the words “Food beyond compare, food beyond belief, mix it in a mincer and pretend it’s beef” without thinking of Ireland’s latest contribution to world cuisine – horse-burgers. Plus points? Good performances from Jackman, Hathaway, Baron Cohen, Bonham Carter and Redmayne. Stunning set design. The filth and squalor. A more interesting plot than most musicals. Downsides? It’s sometimes bombastic. Crowe’s singing, though he’s not half as bad as Pierce Brosnan was in ‘Mamma Mia!’. The rebellion – not well explained. The boy meets girl part of the story – left me cold. Some aspects of the production don’t translate well to the big screen.
If you didn’t like ‘Les Misérables’ on stage, this film probably won’t change your mind. Fans will lap it up. Me? I’m somewhere in between.

Rating 6 out of 10