Not quite dreaming the dream: Les Mis

From French novel to West End and Broadway musical, Les Misérables has now journeyed onto British film.

Set during the French revolution Les Mis tells the story of a peasant, named Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who serves a 19 year sentence as a slave after stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. Valjean breaks his parole in an inspired attempt to carve out a better life for himself as an honest man, even taking in his factory worker Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) daughter. However, relentless police inspector, Javert (Russell Crowe), has vowed never to stop hunting Valjean…


Les Mis is a beautifully constructed classic embroiled with misery, but also a bittersweet sense of hope and mortality. It tells the heartfelt tale of the people of Paris during the turbulent 19th-century; their desires and their despair.

Problematically, the film relies so heavily on the material of the stage show, that it forgets its own medium. The constant singing does not smoothly carry the story on film as it does on stage. In fact, it becomes unnecessary and irksome as words that need to be spoken to invoke meaning are ruined by strained singing.

The magic and emotional bearing is lost by faces that are all too famous. Instead of focusing on the soul-destroying lives of the characters, it becomes a flipbook of celebrity after celebrity. No longer do these people seem victims of poverty in France, but this-or-that character in a very desolate-looking celebrity edition of Where’s Wally?

What I was incredulous to read was that people had actually been crying their way through the revolution because of Anne Hathaway’s performance. I can’t think of a scene where I have been so emotionally turned-off by such a smug case of overacting. Sheesh.

I’m not going to say it was all bad, because it wasn’t. There were strong moments, strong songs, and a strong storyline, of course. What I will say is that you’re ridiculously better off seeing the show onstage where it really belongs.


Les Misérables – Tom Hooper (2012, UK)



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