Two years after a stammering king earned him Oscar glory, director Tom Hooper returns with his adaptation of Victor Hugo’s tale of self-sacrifice and redemption in 19th Century France.
And you wouldn’t bet against him repeating his 2011 success, even if his version of the long-running musical has a few misses alongside the hits.
Considering the source material is a five-volume behemoth of a book, here is the gist without the detail: Jean Valjean – brilliantly played by Hugh Jackman – goes from convict to mayor to noble saviour of someone else’s child to accidental participant in an attempted uprising, forever running from Russell Crowe’s tenacious Inspector Javert.
Recreating the West End show’s sung format, Hooper elevates it above other movie musicals through his decision to have the actors sing while shooting their scenes, rather than in post-production.
It was a decision that turned out to be a masterstroke, bringing a reality to each and every performance, most notably those of Jackman, Eddie Redmayne as Marius, and a sensational Anne Hathaway as the doomed Fantine.
Of everything that is great about the film, Hathaway is by far the greatest.
No doubt her heart-breaking, single-shot rendition of I Dreamed a Dream will be the film’s defining moment. But it is Fantine’s entire journey, which Hathaway conveys in a way I had never fully comprehended until now, that should win her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar next month.
For a film almost entirely sung, the cast are almost note-perfect. Only Crowe and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette suffer slightly in comparison, the former very much Javert in character yet not in voice, and the latter too shrill in the few moments her character does anything more than look pretty.
At the midway point I half expected an interval. And in truth I could have done with one, as the second half never quite lives up to the energy, and at times, brilliance, of the first.
But for all its slight imperfections, there is much to admire. Not least Danny Cohen’s excellent cinematography, outstanding performances from the old and the new, and a treat, in the form of Colm Wilkinson’s Bishop, for anyone who saw him play Valjean on stage.
If you love the show, you will almost certainly love the film. And if you don't, it is probably too faithful to convert you now. And if you are new to this story of despair and heartache, of hope and human endeavour, I think you will be surprised. Just remember it is a cinema, and as much as you may want to, come the end you probably shouldn’t applaud.