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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Les Miserables

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway star in "Les Miserables."
If your Christmas wish list includes a lavish, big-budget musical crafted in the classic Hollywood manner, then "Les Miserables" (Universal) is just the ticket.

This rousing entertainment offers something for everyone: soaring anthems, tear-jerking romance, thrilling drama—and a positive portrayal of the Catholic faith.

In fact, this faithful adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel, which was transformed into a worldwide stage sensation by impresario Cameron Mackintosh, is a deeply moral story. Characters rise and fall calling on God for grace and mercy, seeking personal redemption while trying to better the lives of others.

As the central character, ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), comes to realize, "To love another person is to see the face of God."

Director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech") paints with an enormous brush and "Les Miserables" is staged on an epic scale, overstuffed with grand set pieces and hundreds of extras. Hooper's fondness for extreme close-ups heightens the emotional wallop, and will likely send some viewers scrambling for tissues.

The labyrinthine story spans two decades in post-revolutionary France and revolves around three characters: Valjean, who breaks his probation and seeks a fresh start; Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), obsessed with finding Valjean and bringing him to justice; and the doomed Fantine (Anne Hathaway), who sacrifices everything for the care of her out-of-wedlock daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen).

The kindness of a Catholic bishop (Colm Wilkinson) convinces Valjean to amend his life. Over time, he changes his identity, becoming the benevolent mayor of a village and a factory owner. When Fantine is unjustly fired from his factory and forced into a life of prostitution, Valjean steps in, promising the now-dying woman that he will raise Cosette as his own.

Cosette has been living with the Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), wicked tavern owners and professional pickpockets. Their collusion with Javert makes for a narrow escape for Valjean.

Years pass, and Cosette has blossomed into a refined young woman (Amanda Seyfried). On a Paris street she meets a young revolutionary, Marius (Eddie Redmayne). It's love at first sight, much to the chagrin of fellow rebel Eponine (Samantha Barks), who happens to be the Thenardiers' daughter.

Can Cosette and Marius' love survive the rising tensions of the mob, as streets are barricaded and weapons drawn? Is Javert closing in on Valjean at long last? "Les Miserables" barrels along to a satisfying climax that is profound in its endorsement of the power of faith.

With little spoken dialogue and 50 songs from composer Claude-Michel Shonberg, and lyricist Herbert Kretzmer, "Les Miserables" is more opera than musical. Fortunately the actors' pipes are up to the challenge, especially Hathaway, whose heartbreaking rendition of the signature tune, "I Dreamed a Dream," is sensational.

The film contains scenes of bloody violence, a prostitution theme, and nongraphic nonmarital sexual activity. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Joan of Arc: 
		<p>Burned at the stake as a heretic after a politically-motivated trial, Joan was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920.</p>
		<p>Born of a fairly well-to-do peasant couple in Domremy-Greux (southeast of Paris), Joan was only 12 when she experienced a vision and heard voices that she later identified as Sts. Michael the Archangel, Catherine of Alexandria, and Margaret of Antioch.</p>
		<p>During the Hundred Years War, she led French troops against the English and recaptured the cities of Orléans and Troyes. This enabled Charles VII to be crowned as king in Reims in 1429. Captured near Compiegne the following year, she was sold to the English and placed on trial for heresy and witchcraft. Professors at the University of Paris supported Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvis, the judge at her trial; Cardinal Henry Beaufort of Winchester, England, participated in the questioning of Joan in prison. In the end, she was condemned for wearing men's clothes. The English resented France's military success–to which Joan contributed. </p>
		<p>On this day in 1431, she was burned at the stake in Rouen, and her ashes were scattered in the Seine River. A second Church trial 25 years later nullified the earlier verdict, which was reached under political pressure.</p>
		<p>Remembered by most people for her military exploits, Joan had a great love for the sacraments, which strengthened her compassion toward the poor. Popular devotion to her increased greatly in 19th-century France and later among French soldiers during World War I. Theologian George Tavard writes that her life "offers a perfect example of the conjunction of contemplation and action" because her spiritual insight is that there should be a "unity of heaven and earth."</p>
		<p>Joan of Arc has been the subject of many books, plays, operas, and movies. </p>
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