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It is early 19th century France. Jean Valjean’s (Liam Neeson) theft of a loaf of bread condemns him to a 19 year prison sentence. On his release from the tough, brutal life of prison, an act of forgiveness by a priest changes his attitude and thus the course of his life. He eventually becomes the respected mayor of the poor town of Vigau, transforming it into a thriving community, caring for its people and workers, as the benevolent, generous owner of a factory. Fantine (Uma Thurman), is one of his employees, fired by the manageress when she discovers the unmarried Fantine has a child. Fantine falls ill, and Jean falls a little in love with her, doing his best to bring her back to health – with little success. When she is dying, he promises to take care of her little daughter, Cosette. Still hunted for breaking his parole by the obsessed policeman Javert (Geoffrey Rush), Valjean makes a new life for himself and the now teenage Cosette (Clare Danes), who falls in love with Marius (Hans Matheson), a young Parisian revolutionary, anxious to launch the French Republic. But all the time, Javert is never far behind.

"What do we make of the heroically decent Valjean in these cynical times? Can we believe that a man who spent 19 years in the vile, debasing prison system of early 19th century France can be so generous of spirit, so able in business, so sensitive in nature? At first, I felt it ridiculous, but on reflection, I realise that of course Jean Valjean was always a decent man, and the crime that lost him his freedom was stealing bread – to feed his hunger as a kid. Still, I would have liked one more transition scene between the bedraggled tramp just out of jail and the respected and loved mayor a decade later. That aside, Bille August’s Les Miserables is a seriously humanistic work, but also engaging and entertaining, brimming with excellent acting. August is anxious to reveal the beating hearts, the complex natures and the eternal confines of one’s make up as it crosses the socio-historic landscape of France on the eve of revolution. This is the fermenting context of the story; lives are at stake, society is breaking up, betrayal leads to death, class divisions limit democracy…. Neeson’s effortless and credible character making is matched by Uma Thurman’s best performance since Dangerous Liaisons, Rush is far more complex than a Hollywood baddie might be, and not at all the ‘snarling hangdog martinet’ Charles (below) suggests. From literature to the screen, Les Miserables retains its grip as a story of nobility – nobility as in human virtues, as distinct from royalty. That juxtaposition is its eternal irony."
Andrew L. Urban

"Enhanced by Basil Poledouris’ glorious melodic score, Bille August’s passionate interpretation of Victor Hugo’s tale is both visually stunning and profoundly moving with tour de force performances by Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush. Liam Neeson has always struck me as the kind of mind who fills a room. Here, his powerful presence fills the screen, and his transformation from convict to do-gooder is rich with sincerity and compassion, always displaying a human face. It’s credit to him that many of the virtuous actions are profoundly moving as opposed to preaching. Rush makes a wonderful Javert, darkly complex and inwardly obsessed. He finds the balance between being the evil pursuant, and a troubled soul haunted by his own demons. We tend to pity rather than despise him. Uma Thurman is well cast in her brief role as the tragic Fantine; Clare Danes is luminous as Cosette. While Victor Hugo’s saga is of epic proportions, Rafael Yglesias’s screenplay flows well, and despite the 132 minute length, never drags. Although the issues of severe punishment for stealing a loaf of bread and discrimination against illegitimacy are out of date, in the context, it is easy to be swept away by the passion and sincerity of the story. Superb production design and beautiful historic settings impress. Those familiar with Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's wonderful musical adaptation won’t be disappointed with this film version – although at times, I must admit, I was ready to hear some of the memorable tunes. Poignant, moving and entertaining, Les Misérables is a classic tale remade into wonderful cinema."
Louise Keller

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CAST: Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, Claire Danes, Hans Matheson, Reine Brynolfsson, Peter Vaughan, Mimi Newman

DIRECTOR: Bille August

PRODUCER: Sarah Radclyffe, James Gorman

SCRIPT: Rafael Yglesias (based on the novel by Victor Hugo)


EDITOR: Janus Billeskov-Jansen

MUSIC: Basil Poledouris


RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 17, 1998


VIDEO SELL-THRU RELEASE: November 17, 1999


VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

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