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This film is not the first big-screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, but is probably one of the most talked about versions.  Having seen the show on stage years ago, I was eager to see the film, although I did approach with some caution, knowing that it was well over two hours long, and that there is virtually no spoken dialogue in it; this is a musical in the fullest sense of the word.

Briefly, the story, which is set in France in the 1800s, is about a man named Jean Valjean, who gets out of prison after serving a lengthy sentence for stealing bread for his sister’s baby.  He breaks parole and becomes a successful business man (and Mayor).  However, when he agrees to take care of a dying lady’s child, the decision changes his life forever.  He also has to deal with a policeman named Javert, who is obsessed with tracking down his former prisoner Valjean.

The main stars of this film are Hugh Jackman as Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert, Amanda Seyfried as the adult Cosette (the young girl who becomes Valjean’s ward), and Eddie Redmayne as Marius, a young man who falls in love with Cosette.  Supporting roles are played by, amongst others, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, as Monsieur and Madame Thenardier (the cruel couple who look after the child Cosette until Valjean rescues her from their clutches); despite being unpleasant characters, they also provided a fair amount of comic relief, and Anne Hathaway, in an Oscar nominated (and deserving) performance as Fantine, Cosette’s mother.

The film is a sweeping epic, covering not just the stories of these characters, but the story of the French revolution, with the tragedy and bloodshed that it brought.  The singing, for the most part, is excellent.  Jackman and Hathaway in particular, have beautiful voices, and both brought tears to my eyes.  Jackman has been nominated for an Oscar for this role, and deservedly so.  (As I write this, the Oscars are nearly two months away, and my money is on Daniel Day Lewis winning for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.)

As shocking as it is to me, the weakest link in this film is the usually reliable Russell Crowe.  However, that is not to say that he was not good, or that he did not play the part well – he did, but he is surrounded by people who took my breath away with their performance (In other words, the weakest link is still pretty strong!).  Crowe’s singing voice is not the best, but he holds his tunes well, and acquits himself in the role.

This is not a film for everyone – it’s sad, it requires investment from the viewer (this is not a film to kick back and relax with), and if you don’t like musicals, you should avoid it at all costs!  But I think it’s one of those films that if you like it, you will love it.For my part, I found it moving, glorious and unforgettable.

Year of release: 2012

Director: Tom Hooper

Producers: Nicholas Allott, Liza Chasin, Angela Morrison, F. Richard Pappas, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron MackintoshBernard Bellew, Raphael Benoliel, Francesca Budd, Thomas Schonberg

Writers: Victor Hugo (novel), Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Herbert Kretzmer, William Nicholson

Main cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Smaantha Barks, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anne Hathaway

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This review is for the 1996 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy. I had been meaning to watch this for ages, and after seeing the stage adaptation at the RSC, it seemed like the perfect time to finally catch the film.

In this version, Toby Stephens plays Duke Orsino, whose love for Olivia (Helena Bonham Carter) is unrequited. Imogen Stubbs plays Viola/Cesario, and Steven Mackintosh plays her brother Sebastian. Toby Belch is played by Mel Smith, Richard E Grant is the hapless Andrew Aguecheek, and Imelda Staunton plays Maria.

Far more is made of Viola/Cesario’s attraction to Orsino than was made in the play, and also, we do see the eventual marriage of Belch and Maria, which was not in the stage version. It is a most enjoyable film, with plenty of drama and comedy. Each cast member seemed just right for their role – stand outs for me were Toby Stephens – who is exactly the right kind of handsome and noble for this part – Helena Bonham Carter (of course), and Mel Smith, who surprised me with his acting skills. Previously I had only seen him in out and out comedies, but here he was perfect as Toby Belch. Imogen Stubbs also somehow managed to look like a gorgeous woman and still be convincing (enough for the purpose of the film) as a young man. I should also mention Ben Kingsley – an always-reliable actor – who played Feste, with an almost sinister undertone, and Nigel Hawthorne, who played the pompous Malvalio.

I don’t think it afforded me as many laughs as the stage adaptation, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this film, and would recommend it to any fans of Shakespeare, or indeed any fans of comedy in general.

Year of release: 1996

Director: Trevor Nunn

Producers: Christopher Ball, Mark Cooper, Simon Curtis, Stephen Evans, David Garrett, Bob Hayward, Ileen Maisel, David Parfitt, Greg Smith, William Tyrer, Ruth Vitale, Patrick Wachsberger, Jonathan Weisgal

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Trevor Nunn

Main cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Toby Stephens, Mel Smith, Richard E. Grant, Imelda Staunton, Nigel Hawthorne, Imogen Stubbs, Steven Mackintosh, Ben Kingsley

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Click here for my review of the 2012 stage adaptation, at RSC, Stratford
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Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter in her first cinematic role) and her cousin and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith) are on holiday in Florence, but find that their hotel rooms do not have the view they requested.  Mr Emerson Denholm Elliott) and his son George (Julian Sands) offer to let the ladies have their rooms – which do have a view.  A friendship of sorts develops between Lucy and the moody and slightly eccentric George, but when she goes back to England, she becomes engaged to the stuffy Cecil Vyse (an almost unrecognisable Daniel Day Lewis).  However, when George and his father rent a cottage in the village where Lucy lives, she finds herself drawn to George again…

This is a lovely looking film, and still feels fresh although it’s now 26 years old (!)  It has a stellar cast – Maggie Smith and Judi Dench are excellent as always.  Simon Callow is also great as Reverend Beebe, and Denholm Elliott snatches his scenes from under everybody’s noses; he is absolutely terrific as Mr Emerson (and garnered an Oscar nomination for his performance).  A fresh faced Rupert Graves plays Freddy, Lucy’s brother, and the character is adorable.  I was less keen on Danie Day Lewis’ performance as Cecil Vyse, but that is probably because I found the character difficult to warm to.  Helena Bonham Carter displays the talent that would lead her to become one of Britain’s most respected actress.  Her performance here may be more raw than her later performances, but she still captures the character very well indeed.  The only weak spot in the cast for me was Julian Sands.  I wanted to like him, but I just thought his acting was so incredibly wooden as to verge on embarrassing.

However, there’s still plenty here to enjoy – it’s one of Merchant Ivory’s most popular productions and definitely a must-see for any fans of period drama.  Florence looks lovely, and it’s a very sweet film with lots of unexpected humour.  The ending is hardly a surprise, but is very satisfying nonetheless.  Certainly recommended, for a lovely story, and an almost perfect cast.

Year of release: 1985

Director: James Ivory

Writers: E M Forster (book), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Main cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, Denholm Elliott, Maggie Smith, Daniel Day Lewis

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