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Oliver Twist - If Dickens was to write a film script of his story, this would be as close to it as we would get

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 our review

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Harry Eden interview

Jamie Foreman interview

Mark Strong interview

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