16/12/2012 13:58 GMT | Updated 13/02/2013 05:12 GMT

REVIEW: 'Les Misérables' - Who Hits The High Notes?


The risk to reputation for sticking your creative oar into the longest running musical in the world will either make you très joyeux or très malheureux.

Tom Hooper's film version of Les Misérables has been making headlines: four nominations at the 2013 Golden Globe awards, notably not one for Best Director, and possible Oscar recognition on the horizon. It would seem the Oscar-winning director's starry cast, including Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, is reigniting revolutionary France this Christmas.

When Hollywood moves a musical from the stage to the screen, the inevitable compromise on singing talent comes under scrutiny, as studio executives strive to strike a balance between ticket-selling faces and their accompanying vocals.

In that vein, Hooper's Les Misérables is trying to make history - all the singing was performed live on set, without any post-filming sound studio recordings.

So who falls short of a quaver or two? Who is pitch perfect as they belt their way through the hard labour and broken dreams of 19th Century misery?

Anne Hathaway has come a long way since the Princess Diaries. Posters showing Hathaway's gaunt frame and shaved head have graced our newspapers, magazines and computer screens for months. The star's face lends itself to the part of downtrodden Fantine - her huge forlorn eyes are pools of woe as she dreams a dream that will never be fulfilled, her trembling lip communicating all the sorrow and pain of life's broken promises.

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Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway as Fantine

Giving West End musical stars a run for their money, Hathaway moves from murmuring her pain, to belting out her anger in angst-ridden indignant tones. Forget the hysteria of Susan Boyle's rendition - Hathaway's turn of I Dreamed A Dream will get you applauding in the cinema - a performance that deserves to be making headlines above wardrobe malfunctions.

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Anne Hathaway as Fantine

Leaving his Wolverine claws behind, Hugh Jackman throws himself into his role as Jean Valjean, the man pursued by a relentless Javert on a quest for justice. Convincing prosthetics and eye-watering contact lenses leave us wincing at the sores and scars on Jackman's ravaged face and body.

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Isabelle Allen as Cosette and Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

Jackman's singing voice may not match that heard by previous actors playing Jean Valjean - Colm Wilkinson being the most famous - but what makes Jackman's performance shine is the range of stoic emotion etched on his face throughout, with unique intonations added to his singing lines. Hooper pays homage to Wilkinson's legacy as the quintessential Jean Valjean, with a cameo role as the kindly Bishop, turning Valjean's life around.

Paling in comparison to his peers, Russell Crowe's Javert leaves us wanting. Grimacing through an awkward and self-conscious performance, Crowe's songs play like a rusty bicycle wheel. Crowe's voice does improve, but with a delivery so hit and miss it feels like the star of the Gladiator is out of practise and out of his depth in a musical film.

One reliable consistency throughout is the sumptuous cinematography and mesmerising colours - Hooper tries to show us everything from the world of Les Misérables, proving what film can do that the stage cannot.

Dizzying CGI shots show stunning camera sweeps: the mountaintop scene where Valjean finds sanctuary in a church, a grimy Paris where the heated revolution reaches boiling point. The gritty fight scenes also bring realism to a stage show that relied upon the audience's imagination.

Standout scenes include Eddie Redmayne's rendition of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, along with a duet with Amanda Seyfried in A Heart Full Of Love, accompanied by Seyfried's sweet warblings.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen bring much needed comic relief with their lively Master of the House.

If you experience Hobbit-overload this Christmas, try out Hooper's grim fairy tale: escaped convicts, enforced prostitution, teary deathbed scenes and Viva La Revolution in the streets of France.

Les Misérables may not have festive ingredients, but this impressive achievement will certainly make you grateful for a cosy Christmas out of the cold.

Watch the trailer for Les Misérables:

Watch a "Singing Live" featurette about Les Misérables

Flick through behind-the-scenes pictures of Les Misérables:

Les Miserables Behind The Scenes