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Oliver Twist - Review

Oliver Twist

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: The Best Of Oliver Twist; Kidding With Oliver Twist; Twist By Polanski; Cast And Crew Biographies; Theatrical Trailers.

THE most obvious question to ask about Oliver Twist is did we really need more? But with Roman Polanski directing, the answer would seem to be yes.

Charles Dickens’ classic has already been filmed by David Lean in 1948 (with Alec Guinnesss memorably portraying Fagin) and in 1968, when it was turned into a musical.

Polanski, however, seeks to return to the seriousness of the original and together with Oscar-winning writer, Ronald Harwood (who worked with him on The Pianist), has lovingly crafted a richly satisfying version of the tale which ought to appeal to adults and older children alike.

The story should be familiar to all, concentrating on the difficult life of orphan, Oliver Twist (played by Barney Clark) as he travels to London and falls under the influence of a gang of East End thieves led by a man called Fagin (Sir Ben Kingsley).

Despite being trained as a pick-pocket, Oliver is given the chance of a new beginning when he is taken under the wing of a kindly gentleman, Mr Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke), but is forced to return to the East End in a bid to rid himself of his criminal past.

Much like he did with Tess (his gritty re-telling of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel), Polanski refuses to shy away from some of the darker aspects of Dickens’ work.

The film looks authentic, expertly recapturing the bleakness of Victorian London’s East End by using some wonderful Prague sets, and refusing to pull any punches in terms of violence.

As such, the tragic fate of one character appears as shocking as it would doubtless have first appeared in print, while the deserved fate of one of the tale’s biggest villains is expertly staged.

Performance-wise, the film also hits most of the right notes, with Kingsley particularly effective as Fagin, a low-life who develops a special bond with Oliver.

The actor possesses an uncanny knack for finding a hidden humanity in the darkest of souls and does so again with Fagin, while also relishing the opportunity to ham it up a little.

Both Jamie Foreman, as the murderous Bill Sykes, and Leanne Rowe, as the sympathetic Nancy, also figure strongly in what is generally a strong ensemble piece.

In fact the only real weakness comes in the form of Oliver himself, who is played as far too meek and mild-mannered by Clark – he could do with a little more cheekiness to explain his endearing appeal to so many.

But the rest of the cast is so strong that such a criticism is easily forgotten when set against the overall enjoyment of the piece.

Polanski has, in the final analysis, faithfully gone back to the roots of Dickens’ classic to create one of his own.