Les Miserables: What You Need to Know–Context, Events

Les Misérables is the screen motion-picture adaptation of the global stage sensation seen by more than 60 million people in 42 countries and in 21 languages around the world that is still breaking box-office records everywhere in its 28th year.


Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption—a timeless testament to the endurance of the human spirit. Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.

With its story’s bands of the disenfranchised joining together to challenge corruption and demand change, Victor Hugo’s 150-year-old tale that inspired the world’s longest-running musical has never been timelier. Now, Les Misérables brings its power to the big screen in Hooper’s sweeping and spectacular interpretation of this classic epic. With international superstars and beloved songs—including “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Bring Him Home,” “One Day More” and “On My Own”—the show of shows is reborn as the cinematic musical experience of a lifetime.

1815, Toulon/Digne:
After 19 years on the chain gang (“Look Down”), Jean Valjean (Jackman)—prisoner 24601—is released by Javert (Crowe), the officer in charge of the convict workforce. As Valjean struggles to make his way from Toulon to Digne (“Freedom Is Mine”) in search of food, lodging and work, he discovers he is an outcast, shunned by everyone. Only Bishop Myriel of Digne (COLM WILKINSON, who originated the role of Valjean in London and on Broadway) treats him kindly, but Valjean, embittered by years of hardship, repays him by stealing the church’s silver candlesticks. Valjean is soon caught and returned, but is astonished when the bishop denies the theft to the police to save him. Henceforth, Valjean decides to start his life anew (“What Have I Done?”).

1823, Montreuil-sur-Mer:
Eight years have passed, and Valjean, having broken his parole and vanished, has used the money made from selling the bishop’s silver to reinvent himself as Monsieur Madeleine—a respected town mayor and factory owner. One of his workers, Fantine (Hathaway), has a secret illegitimate child named Cosette to whose guardians she must send every franc she earns. The other women have discovered this, and when they think Fantine is behaving above her station by refuffing the factory foreman because of his advances, they demand her dismissal (“At the End of the Day”). She is thrown out without mercy. Fantine pleads with Valjean to help her, but his attention is elsewhere.

Javert, now the inspector of police, has appeared at the factory to see Madeleine. Although Javert thinks they may have met before, Valjean quickly informs him he is mistaken. They are interrupted by a crash from outside, and they hurry out. There, Javert watches in amazement as Valjean lifts a cart, which has toppled onto a driver named Fauchelevent (STEPHEN TATE, a London stage Thénardier for several years). The extraordinary show of strength reminds Javert of the convict Valjean, but he is not confident enough to say so.

Desperate for money to pay for her daughter’s medicine, Fantine goes to the red-light district (“Lovely Ladies”), where she sells her beloved locket, her hair and her teeth, then joins the whores in selling herself (“I Dreamed a Dream”). Utterly degraded, she gets into a fight with a violent customer and is about to be arrested by Javert when the mayor arrives and demands she be taken to the hospital instead. Fantine tells Valjean that she was thrown out by his foreman, that Valjean did nothing to help her, and that her daughter is close to dying. Stunned, he promises to go to the inn in Montfermeil, where her daughter is living, and reunite her with her mother.

Later, Javert hears that the convict Valjean—whom he has been hunting for eight years—has been recaptured, and he goes to see Madeleine to apologize for his suspicions. Valjean conceals his shock and hurries home, preparing to leave before the mistake is discovered. Unable to see an innocent man go to prison, Valjean bursts into the courtroom to confess that he is in the fact the real Valjean, prisoner 24601 (“Who Am I?”). Valjean then goes to the hospital, where he promises the dying Fantine that he will find and raise Cosette as his own (“Take My Hand”). Just as Fantine dies, Javert arrives to arrest Valjean. The two men fight (“The Confrontation”), but Valjean manages to escape.

In Montfermeil, Young Cosette (newcomer ISABELLE ALLEN) has been living (“Castle on a Cloud”) with Monsieur and Madame Thénardier (Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter), who horribly abuse her while spoiling their own daughter, young Éponine (newcomer NATALYA WALLACE). Keepers of an inn, they run a bawdy business, where they frequently pick the pockets of their customers (“Master of the House”). Valjean finds Cosette freezing in the woods by the inn and takes her back to her guardians, whereupon he pays the Thénardiers to let him take her away to Paris (“The Bargain”).

Just after Valjean and Cosette leave, Javert arrives, cursing the fact that Valjean has eluded him once more. As they make their way to Paris, Valjean is overwhelmed by the love he has for Cosette (“Suddenly,” written for the screen), but there is no time for him to indulge in his paternal feelings. Javert is hot on their heels, and when they arrive in Paris, Valjean and Cosette seek sanctuary in a convent. They find it when they run straight into the very man whom Valjean rescued from certain death, Fauchelevent. That night, Javert pledges to the sleeping city that he will hunt Valjean until he is back behind bars (“Stars”).

1832, Paris:
Nine years later, the unrest in the city has been simmering because of the imminent death of the popular leader General Lamarque, the only man in government who has shown sympathy for the poor citizens who are dying in the streets. We follow the indomitable street urchin Gavroche (DANIEL HUTTLESTONE, West End production of Les Misérables) as he jumps from coach to coach, literally dancing over the heads of the elite (“Look Down”), and a group of politically minded students led by Marius (Redmayne) and Enjolras (Tveit) as they gather in the streets. Enjolras rallies the crowd for support, and a pretty young street girl, the now-grown Éponine (Barks), gazes longingly at Marius, clearly and desperately in love with him.

Later the same day, a street gang led by M. and Mme. Thénardier sets upon Valjean and a beautiful young woman, the grown Cosette (Seyfried), who are giving alms to the beggars. Marius catches sight of Cosette, and he cannot take his eyes off her. It is simply love at first sight. Just then, Javert arrives and breaks up the brawl but fails to recognize Valjean until the former prisoner has vanished. For her part, Éponine reluctantly agrees to help Marius find Cosette, for whom he only has eyes.

As news of Lamarque’s death spreads throughout Paris, the students gather again to rally support for a revolution (“Red and Black”). However, Marius is distracted by thoughts of Cosette, as is Cosette of Marius (“In My Life”). Éponine guides Marius to Cosette (“In My Life”/“A Heart Full of Love”), while her scurrilous father tries to rob Valjean’s house. Valjean, convinced it is Javert who has come after him, tells Cosette they must flee the country. Cosette hastily scribbles a letter to Marius so that he will know where to find her. She sees Éponine and asks her to give the note to Marius. Éponine takes the letter and walks despondently through the lonely streets of Paris (“On My Own”), arriving at the apartment where Marius lives. Heartbroken, she keeps the letter but tells him that Cosette has gone to England.

Set to the ensemble song “One Day More,” we follow the many threads of the story: Valjean and Cosette as they flee, while Marius pines for Cosette and Éponine grieves for a love she’ll never know; Enjolras and the students prepare ammunition for the uprising, while Javert rouses his forces and promises to suppress it. Marius leads the students to the streets, and bolstered by the crowd, they ambush Lamarque’s funeral (“Do You Hear the People Sing?”) and make their call for the people to rise up. A soldier lets off a round of ammunition, and the funeral explodes into a riot. The students break away and race off to their home base, where they prepare to build a barricade and to make their final stand. Disguised as a boy, Éponine decides to rejoin Marius there, and Javert, who has been operating undercover throughout the funeral, also arrives at the growing barricade. Gavroche soon unmasks Javert’s true identity, and the spy is taken hostage by the students.

The barricade continues to grow, and the revolutionaries defy the warning by soldiers to give up. Éponine is killed while protecting Marius (“A Little Fall of Rain”), but she just manages to give him Cosette’s note before she dies. Marius asks Gavroche to take a letter to Cosette, which is intercepted by Valjean. He understands now that Marius and Cosette have fallen in love, and knowing that the students won’t stand a chance, he goes in search of Marius. Valjean gains entry to the barricade and soon sees Javert held captive. Warning the students of snipers and proving his allegiance, Valjean asks Enjolras to release Javert into his custody. Valjean is given the chance to kill Javert but shows him the mercy denied himself. The students settle down for a long night on the barricade (“Drink With Me”), and in the deadly quiet, Valjean prays to God to spare Marius (“Bring Him Home”).

The next day, as Gavroche volunteers to go for more ammunition (“Little People”), the little boy is killed by a soldier. The rebels now face a bombardment by the army, and in the onslaught, Marius is shot. Valjean carries the unconscious Marius away from the carnage, escaping into the sewers. Enjolras and the few remaining rebels are killed. Javert walks through the bodies, grimly surveying the victory of law over rebellion, but the official does not find Valjean until he sees a drain has been lifted…

Valjean pulls Marius through the sewers, and after he meets Thénardier robbing the corpses of the rebels, he emerges from the gutter only to find Javert waiting for him once more. Valjean pleads for time to deliver Marius to the hospital, but Javert threatens to kill him if he attempts to escape. Valjean continues to walk on, but Javert cannot pull the trigger. Javert lets Valjean go, but unable to live knowing that his immutable principles of justice have been broken, he leaps from a bridge to his death.

Marius, unaware of the identity of his rescuer, awakes from the nightmare in his grandfather Gillenormand’s (PATRICK GODFREY, The Remains of the Day) home. Still weak, Marius returns to the café where the students plotted their uprising and grieves for his comrades who died for the cause (“Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”). As he turns to leave, he finds Cosette awaiting him. Back at his grandfather’s house, Marius recovers in Cosette’s care and goes to Valjean to hear his rescuer’s confession of his past. Knowing that he must flee so as not to disgrace Cosette in case he is caught (“Who Am I?”), Valjean makes Marius swear that Cosette will never know of his true history.

Marius and Cosette are married, and at the wedding banquet, the Thénardiers try to blackmail Marius in exchange for their silence on Valjean’s identity. However, when Marius sees that the ring Thénardier stole that night in the sewer is his own, Marius understands that it was Valjean who rescued him. He fells Thénardier with a blow, and the Thénardiers are thrown out singing in protest as they go (“Beggars at the Feast”). Cosette joins Marius as they rush to the convent so she may learn her true history. They stay with Valjean as he dies, joined by the ghost of Fantine and the bishop (“Take My Hand”).

Many years later, the people of Paris have risen in their thousands, and a new Republic is born. An immense barricade is populated by thousands of people (“Do You Hear the People Sing?”). We see amongst them the ghosts of Enjolras and the students, Gavroche and Éponine, Fantine and Valjean—all singing together in triumph.