EXCLUSIVE: Universal has landed Russell Crowe to play Javert to Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, the live-action adaptation of the Cameron Mackintosh-produced stage musical that will be helmed by The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper. Universal has slotted the film for release on December 7, 2012, right in the center of Oscar season.

The film is produced by Working Title Films’ partners Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan, along with Mackintosh and Debra Hayward. Liza Chasin is exec producer. William Nicholson wrote the script based on the classic novel and the stage play. The music is by Claude-Michel Schoenberg and Alain Boublil. Said Mackintosh: “Even though I have dreamt about making the film of Les Miserables for over 25 years, I could never have imagined that we would end up with the dream director Tom Hooper, and the dream cast of Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe as the two great protagonists Jean Valjean and Javert. Not only were they born to play these roles vocally, but they thrillingly inhabit this great score. Producing this film with Eric Fellner, Working Title and Universal Pictures is indeed a dream come true and I can’t wait to hear the people sing at my local cineplex.”

This seemed to be in the cards when 20th Century Fox pushed back Wolverine 2 until at least the spring. The delay gives Jackman a chance to make Les Miserables, a film that will likely give Universal a horse in the 2013 Oscar race, and then reprise the role he originated in X-Men.

It’s the latest lead role for Crowe, who will star alongside Mark Wahlberg in the Allen Hughes-directed Broken City, and who is also starring in Man of Steel, the Superman reboot for Warner Bros.

The Working Title team has been developing the musical with Mackintosh for some time, and it comes after they solidified a re-team with Atonement helmer Joe Wright in Anna Karenina for Focus, and they are also coming off Senna, the documentary on the Formula One racing legend that will get a major Oscar-season push and which has grossed $7.5 million worldwide. Hooper’s repped by ICM, Jackman and Crowe by WME and Nicholson by CAA.