Oliver Twist (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner05/10/2005

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 130 mins

Enjoyable adaptation, with impressive photography and strong performances from its cast.

The Background
You might think that it would be a foolhardy director indeed that would attempt to make a straight adaptation of Oliver Twist, particularly given the inevitable comparisons with David Lean’s classic 1948 version. However, when it comes to quality screen versions of standard GCSE English Literature texts, director Roman Polanski has got form.

His version of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbevilles is one of his best films and the benchmark for classic-novel-to-screen adaptations. Consequently, Oliver Twist finds Polanski on top form, aided by a great cast and the same screenwriter and cinematographer that he collaborated with on The Pianist.

The Story
Adapted from Dickens’ classic novel by screenwriter Ronald Harwood, Oliver Twist stars newcomer Barney Clark as Oliver, an orphan boy sent to the workhouse and then sold as an apprentice to an undertaker. Escaping to London, Oliver soon finds himself taken in by The Artful Dodger (Harry Eden), a young pickpocket who works for the crooked miser Fagin (Ben Kingsley).

Dodger and Fagin take Oliver under their wing and school him in the art of pickpocketry, but when Oliver is taken in by kindly Mr Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke), Fagin and the villainous Bill Sykes (Jamie Foreman) conspire to turn Oliver’s good fortune to their advantage.

The Good
The performances are excellent. Clark is a likeable actor and he plays Oliver as a tough little survivor, rather than the easily-led blond moppets other versions have given us. There’s also strong support from Harry Eden, as well as Leanne Rowe as the archetypal tart-with-a-heart Nancy, whilst Jamie Foreman (nasty pieces of work a specialty) adds another great performance to his rogue’s gallery of Cock-er-nee villains.

However, the stand-out performance is Ben Kingsley as Fagin, whose performance even stands up to the standard set by Alec Guinness in the David Lean version.

The Bad
The initial workhouse and apprenticeship stages of the story fly past at a rapid rate, giving the impression of skim-reading the novel and skipping to the good bits. However, this proves a wise decision, given the running time, and it allows Polanski to spend more time with Fagin and his cohorts. That said, the shortening of the earlier stages means that Oliver doesn’t get beaten nearly enough, so you never really feel he’s suffered all that much.

The Conclusion
In short, Oliver Twist is an extremely enjoyable adaptation that combines great cinematography, a strong script and superb performances. Recommended.

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Content updated: 23/10/2017 00:03

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