Les Misérables (1998)

(In French, on Cable TV, April 2017) The most famous big-screen version of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables has to be the 2012 film which adapted the musical on the big screen. I thought it was annoying, boring and exasperating, but I’m far more upbeat about the straightforward 1998 version. Featuring no less than Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush in the lead roles (with some assistance by Uma Thurman and Claire Danes, plus a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it minor role by a then-unknown Toby Jones), Les Misérables cleverly focuses on the essential aspects of the original, convincingly re-creates the historical period and manages to wring a lot of emotional impact out of its dignified treatment of the subject. It’s not exactly a thrill ride, but it unfolds at a steady pace for a historical drama, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome through repetitive musical numbers. While the 2012 version does have a few more spectacular moments (helped along by the state of special effects circa 2012 versus 1998), the non-musical version feels more focused on the story and more satisfying as a result.

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