A strong cast with good singing voices lift up Tom Hooper's French Revolution musical adap
The musical is a taste that, once acquired, tends to stick. Fall for South Pacific or Evita or The Rocky Horror Picture Show at an impressionable age, and your crush is likely to outlast far more credible affiliations. Conversely, if you never got your head around people suddenly bursting into song, it’s hard to absorb it on a casual basis. So enjoyment of Les Misérables rather depends on whether you go into a state of bliss or a full-body cringe when someone belts out a rousing number. There’s no escape, for this, like Evita, is a “sung-through” piece: even the dialogue between songs is delivered in that weird opera-style lilt. If you have disbelief, suspend it now...
Tom Hooper, whose work to date has been more intimate than epic and whose success with The King’s Speech owed more to a charismatic cast than to particularly striking direction, wasn’t the obvious choice for such a flamboyant undertaking. His discomfort shows: unsure what to do with the camera, he flings it about a lot, and closes in on faces far too much. They’re good faces, though – Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried – and out of them come pretty good voices, which are lent urgency by the decision to have the actors sing live on set rather than lip-sync to studio recordings.
The story, loosely adapted by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg from Victor Hugo’s 1862 post-French Revolution set novel, is elaborate and melodramatic, but gripping when you give yourself over to it; the bleeding sincerity of some of the performances, Hathaway’s especially aids with immersion. As a whole the film is easy to mock (accents occupy a weird olde-worlde cod-European netherworld; choreography and design shift oddly between the realistic and the stylised), and – inevitable Oscar glory aside – has a disposable feel; but it’s fun while it’s on, and unless you’re a die-hard musical hater, you’ll head home humming.
General release from Fri 11 Jan.