STAGE TO SCREENS: Looking at Les MisÚrables Through a New Lens; Recapping the Movie

By Kenneth Jones
12 Dec 2012

Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne
Photo by Universal Pictures

The "Lez Miz" film's chief color is gray. This is, after all, a story about "miserable ones" toiling and scrabbling through hard times in France circa 1815-32, culminating in a real-life failed student rebellion against the government. The costume designer Paco Delgado has said that he purposely sought to incorporate red, white and blue (the colors of the French flag) into the palette of the picture.

The women's workclothes at Monsieur Madeleine's factory, from which Fantine is sacked, are all blue. ("Right, my girl — on your way!" spits Michael Jibson in a yeasty brief appearance as the Foreman; he's an Olivier Award nominee who played Charles Lindbergh in Maltby & Shire's Take Flight and Addison Mizner in Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Road Show, both at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London.)

At the top of the film, we first see Jean Valjean wearing red (for guilty!) as a convict in Toulon. He's among hundreds of others pulling on ropes and hauling a damaged vessel into dry dock for repairs as they sing "Look Down." This scene is a change from the stage musical, which has the convicts smashing rocks (in 1985) and rowing oars in a boat (in the 25th-anniversary tour).

Offering yet another shade of red, Fantine sheds her factory duds to reveal a pink dress. Hectored by her co-workers (who, bullyingly, sing right to the camera and push toward us), she lands in the gutter, literally. The pink dress soon disappears as she is forced into poverty — selling a locket, her hair and (in a nod to the novel) her teeth. Transformed into a broken prostitute, Hathaway's Fantine, with short-cropped hair, wears a low-cut white (or is it pale blue?) dress, smeared with filth, as she sings "I Dreamed a Dream." (By the time Monsieur Mayor finds her and carries her off, she's in a garish red dress, to make her more enticing to customers — and surely to represent disease.)

For the record, Javert prefers dark blue throughout the film.