Squeezing into the catsuit for “The Dark Knight Rises” was nothing compared with what Anne Hathaway faced for “Les Miserables,” the movie that could easily earn her a supporting actress Oscar.
She not only sings “live” — as the camera is rolling — but she does it as her character is crying, starving, having her luxuriant hair razored off, being forced into prostitution and degradation and, later, dying. And she never misses a beat or a note or the profound, naked emotions of Fantine, a factory worker in 19th-century France who is literally driven into the streets when co-workers discover she has an illegitimate child. Hathaway’s renditions of “I Dreamed a Dream” and “Come to Me” are among the highlights of the movie version of the stage musical.
It’s been 27 years since “Les Mis” premiered in London and, according to the book “Show Time,” Variety called it too diffuse and opera-like, which “suggests mixed word of mouth and public acceptance problems.”
Now, Tom Hooper, the Oscar-winning director of “The King’s Speech,” has assembled an all-star cast — led by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Hathaway — and opened up the stage production for the big screen. “Les Mis,” inspired by Victor Hugo’s novel, is a story with timeless themes of crime (or acts of decency) and punishment, sacrifice, shattered dreams, avarice, the ravages of poverty, forgiveness, love requited and unrequited, rebellion and redemption, in this world or the next.
The story opens in 1815 as prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean (Jackman), is about to be released on parole after serving a 19-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread to save a starving child. This is not the last he will see of the righteous, obsessed police inspector, Javert (Russell Crowe), who stands guard over the chain gang.
Valjean is unshackled but an outcast, sheltered only by a kindly bishop (Colm Wilkinson, the original Valjean on Broadway). The man of God rescues him a second time when the parolee is caught with purloined silver. Valjean uses that to start over and, eight years later, he is a factory owner.
Jean Valjean eventually assumes care of that girl, Cosette (Isabelle Allen and, then, Amanda Seyfried), and when the story jumps ahead to 1832 Paris, unrest turns into a doomed insurrection. The principals are given one last opportunity to dispense justice, mercy, love, truth and comfort as the credits rise up.