Young orphan Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) runs away from the dreadful workhouse and makes for London, where he is taken in hand by Artful Dodger (Harry Eden), and his gang of youths who work the streets and lanes, picking pockets for the villainous and scheming old Fagin (Ben Kingsley). When a simple trick goes wrong, Oliver is blamed and hauled up in front of the unkind magistrate, where he meets the kind hearted Mr Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke), who recognizes in Oliver an innocent spirit. But Oliver is dragged back into the gutter by his old cronies, and of them all, Nancy (Leanne Rowe) is the one whose conscience won't allow any harm to come him, especially from the wicked Bill Sikes (Jamie Foreman). But Nancy's kindness is rewarded by a terrible revenge and Oliver's very life is in danger as Sikes tries to evade the police.
Review by Louise Keller:
With its themes of survival, love and betrayal, it's not surprising that Charles Dickens' classic tale has been revived again and again for the screen. Roman Polanski's new film version is told with appropriate dramatic eloquence capturing the essence of the Dickensian characters, although it lacks the kind of edge to which we are accustomed from Polanski. Shot in Prague, it's a handsome production with splendid sets and production design, readily convincing us we are in 19th Century England, with its cobbled streets, oil lanterns and hansom cabs.
The central character of Oliver Twist (played by 11 year old English /Australian newcomer Barney Clark) looks a little like Polanski might have looked as a child, with his air of melancholy and quiet determination. Clark's Oliver is more mechanical than endearing and his famous line 'Please sir, I want some more' at the beginning of the film, is almost thrown away. Clark does everything that is asked of him, yet he stops short of making us care for him. Because of this, the stakes are not as high as they might have been.
Ben Kingsley's wily Fagin is the film's most complex character, and the scene in which he embraces Oliver with pathetic vigour at the end, is filled with pathos. The subplot between Jamie Foreman's superbly nasty Bill Sykes and Leanne Rowe's warm-hearted Nancy impacts the most emotionally, and we really care for Nancy, whose sense of goodness is greater than her love for Bill. Bullseye (Turbo) the dog, is spot on, too. The Artful Dodger (Harry Eden) and the other youngsters are terrific, as are the character actors portraying the Dickensian characters that are forever imprinted in our minds.
Probably the thing that Polanski's Oliver Twist does best, is deliver the mood of the day. And he does so on a platter. We may not ask for more, but it's an enjoyable and satisfying visit, irrespective of whether we are familiar with the story or not. Rachel Portman's flowery score with its instantly recognisable phrasing and themes, is a surprising choice, bringing a triteness to the tone that is contrary to the story.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There is a strangely ambivalent tone about Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist, a more or less conventional adaptation by Ronald Harwood, flipping from darkly Dickensian to almost comedic. The adventure elements are submerged in the gritty London of muddy footpaths, the poverty stricken working class Londoners, the petty crims in rags and Fagin's foul hovel where urchins thrive. Yet Ben Kingsley's Fagin is neither the evil hook-nosed Jew of an earlier version, nor a fully reconstructed character; somewhere between the two, he ends up as a figure seeking redemption. Over a glass or two of wine, his characterisation could form the subject of a fascinating discussion, exploring the symbolism of his behaviour and attitude toward Oliver.
Dreary London rain dampens the spirits for the most part, until the sun shines at the relevant plot points, but otherwise, the filmmakers hunch down and get on with telling the story of an innocent amidst rogues. The times are tough on anyone who is poor or powerless - and of course the poor are always powerless. Still, there are some things that a kind heart can do when nothing else can help, and Oliver learns that there can be a high price to pay for doing the right thing. And it's not only the poor who can be kind hearted.
The literature on which the film is based is timeless, and partly that's because it is such a universally recognisable story about human nature in all its myriad shades.
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OLIVER TWIST (PG)
CAST: Ben Kingsley, Barney Clark, Leanne Rowe, Mark Strong, Jamie Foreman, Harry Eden, Edward Hardwicke, Ian McNeice, Jeremy Swift, Michael Heath, Gillian Hanna
PRODUCER: Robert Benmussa, Roman Polanski, Alain Sarde
DIRECTOR: Roman Polanski
SCRIPT: Ronald Harwood (novel Charles Dickens)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pawel Edelman
EDITOR: Herve de Luze
MUSIC: Rachel Portman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Allan Starski
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 15, 2006