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Wednesday July 17th 2024

Les Misérables | 2013

Les Misérables filming location: Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London
Les Misérables location: the funeral procession of Lamarque in ‘Paris’: Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London

Despite being set in France, Les Misérables was shot almost entirely in England, with locations ranging from Bath in Somerset to Kettering in Northamptonshire.

Tom Hooper, director of The King’s Speech, successfully gets his cast to belt their lungs out in front of the cameras, avoiding the standard convention of miming to a pre-recorded track.

The opening scene, as Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and the convicts haul a ship into dock under the watchful eye of Javert (Russell Crowe), was filmed in No.9 Dock at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth, in Hampshire. The working dock, normally used to repair vessels, was not just filled with water, but kitted out with rain and wave machines.

If you want to visit, the south coast dockyard, which boasts 800 years of British naval history, is also home to Lord Nelson’s legendary warship HMS Victory and the Mary Rose exhibition.

Les Misérables filming location: Gourdon, Midi-Pyrenees, France
Les Misérables location: Valjean finds redemption in the village of ‘Digne’: Gourdon, Alpes Maritimes, France | Photograph: Wikimedia / Mossot

Freed on strict parole, Valjean treks to freedom through the mountains and, for a few moments we really are in France. The rugged landscape through which he makes his way is around Gourdon, in the Alpes-Maritimes, about five miles northeast of Grasse, in the south of France.

The church porch in which he collapses is that of St Mary the Virgin, Parson's Lane, in the village of Ewelme, about ten miles southeast of Oxford, Oxfordshire.

He’s taken in by the Bishop of Digne (played by Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role of Valjean in the original production of Les Miz at London’s Barbican Theatre in 1985) and, in a fateful move, makes off with a sackful of stolen silver. Soon caught and returned, Valjean escapes further punishment  as the bishop freely hands over the loot.

The blue-ceilinged Gothic chapel in which Valjean resolves to take this opportunity to turn his life around, is St Sepulchre’s Chapel in the crypt of St Mary Magdalene, Rowington Close, in Little Venice, London W2.

The exterior of church is prominently featured in 1949 British classic The Blue Lamp. It’s also the church to which Mia Farrow follows Elizabeth Taylor at the beginning of Joseph Losey’s 1968 Secret Ceremony, and features in Fernando Meirelles’ 2005 adaptation of John Le Carré’s The Constant Gardener. The crypt itself has also been used in a number of films, including 2008’s The Oxford Murders, with Elijah Wood and John Hurt, and 2008 sci-fi Franklyn, with Ryan Phillippe and Eva Green.

As Valjean sets out on his new life, the aerial shot of the hilltop village is Gourdon itself – and that’s all there is of France.

The story leaps forward eight years to find the prosperous Valjean not only owning a factory in ‘Montreuil-sur-Mer’, but having been elevated to mayor of the town.

The town’s streets and alleyways are another naval attraction, Chatham Historic Dockyard, Chatham, about 35 miles southeast of London, in Kent.

Valjean’s factory was created in the dockyard’s Tarring Yarn House, and the confrontation between Valjean and Javert – where he almost recognises his old nemesis – was filmed in the cockloft of the ropery.

Chatham has previously been seen as the ‘London docks’ and ‘Pentonville Prison’ in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, as 'Hiroshima' in Mr Holmes with Ian McKellen as the ageing sleuth, as the laundry in Suffragette and even as the port of ‘Giza’ in the 1999 version of The Mummy.

The seafront, where the prostitutes ply their trade and Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is obliged to sell her hair, her back teeth and her virtue, is a set built at Pinewood Studios.

There’s no stinting on the realism, though,  with nine tons of seaweed shipped in from the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, as well as sack loads of mackerel and hake hauled in at 2am every morning from London’s famous Billingsgate fish market. The glamour of film-making.

Also built at Pinewood were the inn of the Thénardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), where Valjean adopts Fantine’s daughter, Cosette, and the precariously toppling ‘Cafe Musain’ in the narrow streets of ‘Paris’, where the revolutionaries gather, which were constructed on the studio’s huge, new Richard Attenborough Stage.

Les Misérables filming location: Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London
Les Misérables location: the streets of ‘Paris’: Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London

The grander vistas of ‘Paris’ are the Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, London SE10 – a screen veteran seen in The Madness Of King George, Four Weddings And A Funeral, Thor: The Dark World, Cruella (as 'Regents Park'), Fast And Furious: Hobbs & Shaw, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Mummy Returns; The Duchess, Young Victoria, Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Music Lovers, The Bounty and many other productions.

As the revolutionaries prepare their rebellion at the funeral of Jean Lamarque, Javert readies his men in the College’s famous Painted Hall. The same hall recently passed for ‘Paris’ again in The Iron Lady, Phyllida Lloyd’s film about Margaret Thatcher, with Meryl Streep as the controversial Prime Minister.

The elephant statue, by the way, is a recreation of the plaster Elephant of the Bastille, a Paris monument built for Napoleon – which was specified by Victor Hugo as the shelter of street urchin Gavroche. The real thing lasted only 33 years (the intended bronze version never got built), and its spot in the Place de la Bastille is now occupied by the Colonne de Juillet (July Column).

Producer Cameron Mackintosh was so taken with the 40-foot polystyrene pachyderm, he supposedly rescued it from the skip at the end of the shoot and moved it to the grounds of his house in the west of England.

The narrow, picturesque College Street in the historic city of Winchester in Hampshire, with small old-fashioned houses on one side, was used for Javert’s pursuit of Valjean and Cosette through the streets of ‘Paris’.

Incidentally, it was in the house at number 8 College Street that Jane Austen, author of Pride And Prejudice, Sense And Sensibility and Emma, died.

Les Misérables filming location: Avon Weir, Bath, Somerset
Les Misérables location: Javert falls into the ‘Seine’: Avon Weir, Bath, Somerset | Photograph: Wikimedia / Julian P Guffogg

Having betrayed his own unbending principles and let Valjean go, Javert is finished. The ‘Seine’ into which he plunges is the distinctive weir of the River Avon below the Pulteney Bridge on Bridge Street in the heart of another great historic city, Bath, Somerset.

Les Misérables filming location: Boughton House, Kettering, Northampton
Les Misérables location: the family estate of Marius: Boughton House, Kettering, Northampton | Photograph: Boughton House

Saved from the failed rebellion by Valjean, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) returns to marry Cosette in the ‘Pontmercy’ estate. His family home is Boughton House, actually the residence of the Duke of Buccleuch, just northeast of Kettering in Northamptonshire.

It’s fitting that the mansion represents a ‘French’ estate. It’s the work of Ralph Montagu, the 1st Duke of Montagu, a former English ambassador to France, and a passionate builder and patron of the arts. Boughton represents his dream of bringing French beauty and style to the English landscape and, in fact, has been dubbed the ‘English Versailles’.

Les Misérables filming location: Winchester College Chapel, Winchester, Hampshire
Les Misérables location: the dying Valjean is discovered at the convent: Winchester College Chapel, Winchester, Hampshire | Photograph: Wikimedia / Herry Lawford

Finally, it’s back to Winchester to find the ‘convent’ in which the dying Valjean is found. It’s the 14th Century Chapel of Winchester College, part of the original College buildings on the south side of Chamber Court. If you want to see the famed original wooden fan-vaulted ceiling, there are guided tours.