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With her pale skin, golden hair and haunting blue eyes, ten-year-old Isabelle Allen has a face that can break hearts.
It’s a ghostly, waiflike look that made her a natural choice to play Cosette, as a child, in the much-vaunted £62 million film version of Les Miserables, and which now seems likely to make her a star.
YET last Wednesday the schoolgirl walked the red carpet at the glittering UK premier of Les Miserables in Leicester Square with a quiet assurance that belied her youth. Critics can argue over whether it is Claude-Michel Schonberg’s rousing score, Herbert Kretzmer’s English-language lyrics or the original staging by Trevor Nunn and John Caird, but Les Mis, as it is known to its army of fans, is a musical that gets under the skin. Well, 60 million people in 42 different countries already have.
You can go in not knowing a single note but you’ll come out singing at least five different songs. Tom Hooper’s stunning new film adaptation can only add to the stunning – and somewhat surprising – popularity of a musical that owes its origins to the 1862 novel of the same less-than-inspiring name, written by Victor Hugo and set in the post-revolutionary France of the mid-19th Century.
In the 37 years since he founded the NYMT he has helped shape some of Britain’s leading performers, including actor Eddie Redmayne, who plays the student revolutionary Marius in Les Mis.
He also spied the potential in Jamie Bell, Tom Chambers and Sheridan Smith.
It is a tale of disappointment, betrayal and death and yet audiences love it. If there has been any clever tinkering in the dubbing suite afterwards, you certainly can’t hear it. You go to see the stage musical because you want to hear the finest singing: you’ll go to see the film because the raw emotions of Hugo’s tragedy-laced story shine through as never before.
In bringing it to the screen, Hooper, who in 2011 won the Oscar for Best Director for The King’s Speech, made two bold and quite brilliant decisions. Susan Boyle brought a tear to the eye when she famously belted out I Dreamed A Dream on Britain’s Got Talent but when Anne Hathaway, as poor, doomed Fantine, sings it here, in a high, fragile, faltering voice, it will break your heart.
Isabelle is the latest in a long line of successful talent-spotting.Jeremy James Taylor, founder of the National Youth Music Theatre, says Isabelle’s star potential was obvious from the moment he met her at the Moira House school production in Eastbourne.‘From the moment she auditioned I knew that she was Cosette,’ said Taylor, speaking from Australia where he is now working.‘I was auditioning pupils when in walked this little waif.I thought, “I know your face.” I couldn’t think from where, but when she opened her mouth and sang, I realised she was the image of the little girl from the Les Miserables stage poster.She looked exactly like the original iconic drawing.‘I knew they were casting for the film because a lot of my mates are in it.