Feature by: Jack Foley
HAVING been filmed on numerous occasions, for both cinema and
TV, Oliver Twist might seem like a strange choice for a director
of Roman Polanski's Oscar-winning calibre.
Yet as members of the cast suggest, Charles Dickens' classic
tale remains relevant for audiences today, and represents a deeply
personal choice for the director.
Actor Mark Strong, who plays Toby Crackit, feels the new film
version will succeed in recapturing the imagination of cinema-goers,
especially since it uses Dickens' source material in far greater
depth than before.
His own character, for instance, has not appeared in previous
film versions and results in a very interesting new character
being revived from the novel.
Speaking at a recent London press conference, held at The Dickens
Museum, Strong said: "I think any book that deals with social
commentary is relevant.
"What Polanski brings out in the movie is to help remind
us what that period was like and what deprivation is all about.
"But I also think it’s relevant to Polanski's history
as well. He was making the film for his children, as much as anything
else, and so how do you tell a 10 and a six-year-old what it’s
like to have nothing at that age, bearing in mind his history
in the Krakow ghetto and losing his parents."
Jamie Foreman, who plays Bill Sykes in the film, is also a fan
of Polanski's interpretation of the novel, believing it to be
the best he has ever seen.
"It’s the most succinct, the most clear, and I think
– with the greatest respect to the master – if Dickens
was to write a film script of his story, this would be as close
to it as we would get," he continued.
"He’d done such a great job with Thomas Hardy’s
Tess, and he’s admitted himself that he has a great penchant
for 19th Century literature, especially English literature, so
you know it’s going to be a serious interpretation whatever
Roman Polanski does with it."
The film was shot in Prague, on sets
that successfully recreate Dickensian London, and the environment
this helped to create was another huge step towards creating a
new classic version.
Adds Foreman: "The amount of detail was incredible - whatever
shop you walked into, if it was a butcher’s, say, there
would pork chops there.
"If you went into a greengrocer’s shop there would
be fruit and veg hanging around the walls. Not that the camera
was ever going to delve in there, but you always got a sense that
it was actually real.
"It’s very easy for an actor to pretend all of that,
but it’s easier when you’ve got it all there."
Working with a director of Polanski's stature was also a dream
come true for all of the cast (however young) but Foreman, in
particular, was able to highlight his strengths and what he learned
from the experience.
"He’s very intense and I’ve never worked with
a director who is so meticulous; but it’s all for your benefit.
"I remember a scene where we were in the street, when I’m
walking towards my house to confront Nancy.
"I’m doing this scene and we’re having trouble
with the dog, getting it to stay on the right side of me and extras
are all around us.
"Then all of a sudden, when I felt I'd just got one take
bang on, Roman started screaming and there’s a guy at the
end of the road, overacting, far in the background.
"At first I thought that wouldn’t have mattered, but
then I realised that if his [Polanski's] eye had gone to it, then
it would take the audience’s eye away from it as well.
"So you felt so protected and so cared for, that everything’s
going to be so right.
"And he was right, because if I’d gone to the cinema
and seen it, I would have got back on the first plane to Prague
and found this guy, because he’d upstaged me!
"And that’s the beauty of working with someone like
Roman - he’s a joy and the whole experience was like that."
Related stories: Read
Barney Clark interview
Harry Eden interview
Jamie Foreman interview
Mark Strong interview