'Les Misérables' re-imagined for 2012
Victor Hugo's beloved novel adapted for the big screen by Hooper of 'The King's Speech'
Published: Saturday, April 28, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 17:08
This upcoming Christmas, “Les Miserables” will hit the big screen with an all-star cast, directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”). One of the most beloved novels in Western literature, “Les Miserables” was written and published by Victor Hugo in 1862.
The main character, Jean Valjean, has spent nearly two decades in prison before he finally escapes for good. A former criminal, he learns to become a good man and tries to do good for others. But he cannot escape his past, and a determined police inspector named Javert stops at nothing to put him back behind bars.
While this manhunt commences, Valjean changes his identity, becomes a successful businessman and politician, and adopts Cosette, the daughter of Fantine, a fallen woman who eventually dies from illness.
In Hooper’s edition, Hugh Jackson stars as Valjean, Russell Crowe is Inspector Javert, Anne Hathaway is Fantine, and Amanda Seyfried is Cosette.
In addition to these leads, Eddie Redmayne (“My Week with Marilyn”), Sacha Baron Cohen (the upcoming “The Dictator”), and Helena Bonham Carter (the upcoming “Dark Shadows”) will also play pivotal roles. While this is a high profile project, this isn’t the first time that “Les Miserables” has been adapted from the classic novel. Here’s a look at some of the other editions that have graced the big screen, television, radio and even the stage.
THE FIRST STAGE ADAPTATION, 1863
Just one year after Victor Hugo published his epic, his son Charles and playwright Paul Meurice adapted the novel into a play. There are no recorded reviews of the play, so it’s tough to tell if it was any good, though the play is available to read (or act out) courtesy of napoleonic-literature.com
ORSON WELLES, 1937
Before becoming a legendary and polarizing figure in movies, Orson Welles got his start in theatre and on the radio. In the summer of 1937, Welles, then only 22 years old, wrote, directed and starred (as Jean Valjean) in a seven-part radio drama of “Les Miserables.”
The radio drama was a success not only for Welles but also for his Mercury Theatre, which made their radio debut in the series. This theatre company included Joseph Cotton, a leading and character actor whose credits include Orson Welles’ masterpiece “Citizen Kane”, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt” and Carol Reed’s post-World War II thriller “The Third Man” (which co-starred Welles), and Agnes Moorehead, who eventually earned 4 Oscar nominations and a cult following thanks to her role as the witch Endora (Samantha’s mother) in the 1960s sitcom “Bewitched.”
THE MUSICAL, 1980-PRESENT
In 1980, record producer and singer Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyricist Alain Boublil leashed onto the world Les Miserables the Musical in Paris.
The original run lasted only three months when the booking contract expired. The English-language version was translated and written by Herbert Kretzmer, who began his professional life as a journalist and documentarian before becoming a theatre critic and wrote lyrics for various mediums (including a JFK tribute, written and recorded just hours after his assassination) on the side.
“Les Miserables” debuted in the West End (London’s answer to Broadway) in 1985. Despite initial negative reviews, it has become one of the longest-running productions in history. In 2010, “Les Miserables” was performed for the 10,000th time. In 1987, the musical arrived on Broadway, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical that year. Since then, “Les Miserables” has gone on tour several times, playing for millions of theatre-goers around the globe.
THE ANIME SERIES, 2007
In 2007, Nippon Animation debuted “Les Miserables: Shojo Cosette”, a 52-episode drama series that tells the tale from Cosette’s perspective. The series ran in Japan over the course of a year. If curious about this adaptation, some of the episodes are available to watch on YouTube.
VARIOUS FILM & TV VERSIONS, 1909-2000
To date, there have been a dozen film and television adaptations of “Les Miserables.” The first one was filmed and released in 1909. (It has since been lost.) There is a four and a half one French version from 1934 and one released the following year from 20th Century Fox that earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
The French have created eight versions of the tale, the Italians have created one and the Americans/English three of them. The most famous American version to date is the one released in 1998.
THE 1998 FILM VERSION
Directed by Danish filmmaker Bille August, this rendition stars Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean, Geoffrey Rush as Javert, Uma Thurman as Fantine, and Claire Danes as Cosette.
I gotta admit, it’s odd seeing Danes in a starring role on the big screen, considering that I, along with a majority of people know her nowadays for her TV work in “Homeland”, “Temple Grandin”, or “My So-Called Life” (which is available on Netflix Instant for those who enjoy reliving the 1990s but can’t recall watching the show when it was on the air).
While often sentimental, this is an entertaining adaptation, and each actor delivers a grand (if flashy) performance, especially Neeson as the conflicted Valjean. There are many differences in this edition, but unless you read the novel, casual viewers will not know the difference.
We all know the story and know how “Les Miserables” ends, but it’s still going to be exciting to see how this next edition of this captivating tale turns out.