Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables as part homage, part romance, and part social commentary on class wars that unfolded during his lifetime. The spectacular city architecture stands in stark contrast to the sometimes grotesque living conditions of it's less fortunate inhabitants. Hugo includes the Jardin du Luxembourg and the decaying Elephant of the Bastille to complete the scene of pre-revolutionary Paris. The story opens as we meet the Jean Valjean, aka Prisoner 24601 who is in hard labor at Bagne of Toulon serving 19 years for stealing bread. These early scenes put an emaciated Hugh Jackman's acting chops to the test, and he flawlessly displayed the tortured anguish of a decent man damaged by years of oppression and abuse.
Once released, Jean Valjean breaks parole by leaving town to begin a better life. His steals some silverware from a priest, who covers for him and furthermore gives him two more large silver candlesticks and urges him to become a law abiding citizen. Several years later we catch up with the former prisoner who has made a gentleman of himself and now owns a fabric factory. Working in his factory is the struggling Fantine, a hard working young woman hiding the fact that she has a daughter out of wedlock. When her motherhood is exposed, she is fired by the floor manager and forced to find other ways to care for her tiny blonde daughter, Cosette. Fantine resorts to selling her hair, and even her front teeth before finally resorting to prostitution. Time stops with Anne Hathaway's agonizing rendition of "I Dream a Dream" and reminds us that life can indeed become very dark. Through a series of coincidences, Valjean meets Fantine, now dying, and learns he is responsible for the her unemployment and promises to take care of her daughter.
Valjean finds young Cosette with a con-artist couple the Thenardiers, who run a corrupt hotel. Some of the livliest scenes in the film are performed by the odd but perfectly paired Helena Bonham Carter and Sascha Baron Cohen. Jean Valjean pays handsomely for Cosette, and takes the orphaned girl into his care. They spend the next decade on the run from Inspector Javert who has been looking for Valjean since his disappearance from parole, and played by Russell Crowe who appears to know he may have been miscast.
The next scene opens with the fragile political climate in Paris prompting students to rebell. Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne) is a member of the student group who are protesting against oppression of the working class by setting up barricades to fight off French soldiers. The conniving Thenadiers now have a small son, seen running through the dirty streets of Paris looking like the quintessential urchin. Marius is in love with the now of age Cosette played by Amanda Seyfried. Meanwhile Eponine, a female member of rebellion is in love with Marius, but helps him find Cosette just before she dies in Marius' arms. Eponine is brought to life with a touching performance by Samantha Barks, stealing the last half of the show.
The conclusion comes with the revelations of love and a life redeemed by a promise. Les Miserables is a beautiful story, and director Tom Hopper brings to life Victor Hugo's descriptions and combines them with the heartwrenching classic musical performances audiences have come to expect from Broadway productions. The result will more than satisfy the true lovers of theatre as well as those that are fans of the classic novel, which you can download for free. The two hours and thirty-eight minutes of straight song may be slightly laborous for some, but few would argue that Les Miserables is anything less than magnifique.