Les Mis­er­ables

hits an op­er­atic high note

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Evan Wil­liams

Les Mis­er­ables (M) ★★★★✩ Na­tional re­lease on Box­ing Day; ad­vance screen­ings next week­end

Rise of the Guardians (PG) ★★ ✩✩

Na­tional re­lease AC­CORD­ING to my re­searches (as­sisted by Wikipedia), more films, stage ver­sions and mu­si­cals have been made of Les Mis­er­ables than just about any other work of clas­sic fic­tion. Vic­tor Hugo’s novel, a panoramic slice of so­cial his­tory, is ac­counted a mas­ter­piece of West­ern lit­er­a­ture, and is cer­tainly one of the long­est (the orig­i­nal run­ning to more than 1400 pages when pub­lished in 1862). Hugo was a politi­cian as well as writer, a mem­ber of the French as­sem­bly and, for much of his ca­reer, a fer­vent roy­al­ist. Even­tu­ally he threw in his lot with the demo­cratic and repub­li­can forces on the rise in France and wrote Les Mis­er­ables as a trib­ute to the revo­lu­tion­ar­ies man­ning the Paris bar­ri­cades in the early 19th cen­tury. Li­bret­tists and film­mak­ers have long been grate­ful. No­table films have been made by Lewis Mile­stone and Claude Lelouch; Ge­of­frey Rush gave us a mem­o­rably vil­lain­ous Javert in a 1998 film di­rected by Bille Au­gust and set in the 20th cen­tury.

Un­til now there has been no film of the Cameron Mack­in­tosh mu­si­cal pro­duc­tion first seen on the Lon­don stage in 1985 — one of the most suc­cess­ful mu­si­cals of all time. It was part of a late 20th-cen­tury resur­gence of mu­si­cal the­atre in the post-Rodgers and Ham­mer­stein era — a resur­gence that gave us such clas­sics as My Fair Lady, Oliver!, Phan­tom of the Opera, A Cho­rus Line and Miss Saigon (not to men­tion the works of Stephen Sond­heim). Les Mis­er­ables bears Cameron Mack­in­tosh’s of­fi­cial im­pri­matur as pro­ducer. The di­rec­tor is Tom Hooper, re­mem­bered for his last film, The King’s Speech. Les Mis­er­ables, cham­pi­oning the anti-roy­al­ist cause, is no less sat­is­fy­ing. This time monar­chists and royal fam­i­lies are the bad guys, though we never ac­tu­ally get to see a king (French or English), or hear one make a speech.

As Christ­mas hol­i­day en­ter­tain­ment, Les Mis­er­ables looks at first like a for­bid­dingly grim and har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Based on Her­bert Kret­zmer’s lyrics, with mu­sic by Claude-Michel Schon­berg, the en­tire film is sung in the man­ner of grand opera, with no breaks for spo­ken di­a­logue. Hooper eas­ily could have cho­sen a lighter ap­proach, but clearly was in­tent on giv­ing ev­ery­thing an op­er­atic in­ten­sity and grandeur. And in this, as

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