Tom Hooper’s film version of the immensely successful musical has earned itself eight Oscar nominations and reduced entire audiences to tears, but Les Misérables does raise a crucial question: deprived of its social commentary and vivid descriptions, is Victor Hugo’s novel just not riveting enough? After all, it is reduced in this film to a series of remarkable coincidences, with little or no explanation of the characters’ back stories. Thénardier, for instance, one of the most compelling characters in the novel, is reduced to a comic figure. Javert, though played competently by Russell Crowe, often looks ridiculous while braying simple sentences in the form of song. Marius suddenly appears at one point and becomes a central character.
As a musical, the film is brilliant at times, fairly good at others. Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine is excellent, as is Jackman’s Jean Valjean. The songs, actually sung by the actors themselves to varying degrees of success, sometimes register those raw emotional moments that musicals specialise in, especially Hathaway’s I Dreamed A Dream. But there is too often a sense that there is something missing, that Hugo’s very human characters have been submerged by the scale of the production.
Ajachi Chakrabarti is a Correspondent with Tehelka.