hits an operatic high note
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