Les Misérables is a 1998 film adaptation of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel of the same name, directed by Bille August. It stars Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, and Claire Danes.

As in the original novel, the storyline follows the adult life of Jean Valjean (Liam Neeson), an ex-convict (paroled following 19 years of hard labor, for stealing bread) pursued by police Inspector Javert (Geoffrey Rush). It was filmed at Barrandov Studios in Prague.


Jean Valjean (Liam Neeson), a man arrested for stealing bread nineteen years earlier, is released on parole. When no one is willing to allow a convict to stay the night, Bishop Myriel kindly welcomes him into his home. Valjean explains to Myriel that sleeping in a real bed will make him a new man. In the night, Valjean, interrupted by Myriel while stealing his silverware, strikes him and flees. When the police arrest Valjean, Myriel tells them that the silverware was a gift and scolds Valjean for failing to take his candlesticks as well. Myriel then reminds Valjean that he is to become a new man.

Nine years later, Valjean is now a wealthy industrialist and a mayor. Fantine (Uma Thurman) is a single mother working at Valjean's factory. Fantine is fired from the factory when her manager learns she has had a daughter out of wedlock. Valjean is too preoccupied with the arrival of Inspector Javert (Geoffrey Rush), who previously served as a guard at the prison in which Valjean was held. Fantine, in desperate need of money to pay the extortionate demands of the Thénardiers for looking after her daughter Cosette, turns to prostitution. Javert starts to suspect that the Mayor and Valjean are the same person. Fantine is attacked by some customers, and when she retaliates, Javert beats and arrests her. Valjean insists on her release and she is let go.

Valjean nurses Fantine back, and promises Fantine that she will have her daughter back. However, the Thenardiers continue to extort more money from Valjean and Fantine on accounts of Fantine's daughter being ill. Later, Valjean receives word that another man (John McGlynn) is mistaken as being him and is about to be rearrested. Valjean arrives at court where the man is being tried and reveals his identity that he is the real Valjean. Valjean then returns home and finds Fantine deathly ill. Before she dies, Valjean promises Fantine that he will raise her young eight-year-old daughter, as his own. Javert arrives at Valjean's home to arrest both him and Fantine, and Fantine dies suddenly from shock and illness. Angry, Valjean beats and knocks out Javert and he escapes and flees the community. Valjean eventually finds and rescues Cosette at the Thénardiers, the corrupt innkeepers who were supposed to care for her, but were actually abusing and enslaving her. Both Valjean and Cosette finally make it to Paris where they start a new life together as father and daughter, cloistered within a religious convent.

Ten years later, they leave the convent, and Cosette (Claire Danes), now a nineteen-year-old teenager, strongly falls romantically in love with a revolutionist, Marius (Hans Matheson). Meanwhile Javert is now undercover as an insurrectionist trying to undermine the organization to which Marius belongs. In an attempt to finally arrest Valjean, Javert is captured by Marius and is brought to the barricades as a prisoner to be executed. Valjean journeys to the barricades himself when he learns how much Cosette and Marius love each other, intending to convince Marius to return to Cosette. When the soldiers shoot and kill Gavroche (Shane Hervey), a young boy allied with the revolutionists, Valjean uses his influence with Marius to have Javert turned over to him, so that he himself can execute him. Valjean takes Javert to a back alley, but instead of killing him, sets him free. Marius gets shot and Valjean takes him down a sewer. Javert catches them, but agrees to spare Marius. Valjean takes Marius back to his home, also saying goodbye to Cosette. When Valjean returns to Javert, Javert tells him that he is now unable to reconcile Valjean's criminal past with his current lawful existence and the great kindness, generosity, and goodness that Valjean has shown. Stating, "It's a pity the rules don't allow me to be merciful," Javert finally sets Valjean free, shackles himself, adding "I've tried to live my life without breaking a single rule," and throws himself into the Seine thus taking his own life. Valjean walks down the empty street, finally a free man, with a smile on his face.


  • Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean
  • Geoffrey Rush as Javert
  • Uma Thurman as Fantine
  • Claire Danes as nineteen-year-old Cosette
    • Mimi Newman as young eight-year-old Cosette
  • Hans Matheson as Marius Pontmercy
  • Jon Kenny and Gillian Hanna as the Thénardiers
  • John McGlynn as Carnot
  • Kelly Hunter as Mme Victurien
  • Shane Hervey as Gavroche
  • Lennie James as Enjolras
  • Sylvie Koblizkova as Éponine
  • Peter Vaughan as Bishop Myriel

Adaptation from the novel

The film changes the names of secondary characters and places to make them more readily understood by an English-speaking audience. Many details of the plot are faithfully reproduced, including the trial at Arras and the death of Gavroche, while entire segments of the plot are eliminated. As mayor, Valjean is aided by a junior police official more loyal to him than to Javert. The Thénardier family appears only when Valjean redeems Cosette. The Petit Gervais episode does not occur. Marius has no family background and leads the student revolt. Cosette is far more independent in the film, suggests leaving the cloister to experience the outside world, and challenges Valjean's control of her. Valjean explains his past to her directly rather than through Marius. The film ends with Javert's suicide, eliminating the novel's extended denouement, including the wedding and Valjean's death.


Critical reception

The film received a 74% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the consensus states "This intelligent, handsomely crafted adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel condenses the story's developments without blunting its emotional impact."

Box office

The film opened at number four in its opening weekend with $5,011,840 behind He Got Game, City of Angels, and The Big Hit; the film would eventually gross a domestic total of $14,096,321.


External links

  • Les Misérables (1998) at the Internet Movie Database
  • Les Misérables (1998) at AllMovie
  • Les Misérables (1998) at Box Office Mojo
  • Les Misérables (1998) at Rotten Tomatoes
  • Les Misérables at the Arts & Faith Top100 Spiritually Significant Films list

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