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Few people know that Charles Dickens' portrait of Fagin in Oliver Twist drew inspiration from the life of the Jewish receiver and fencer of stolen goods, Ikey Solomon (Ryk Goddard). This film recreates Ikey's journey from London's dens of vice, Newgate jail, and the notorious prison "hulks" on the Thames to a daring escape to the new world of America. Ikey then tempted fate by sailing to Tasmania in search of his wife, Anne (Carrie McLean), who had been transported as a convict. In Tasmania, Ikey began a long legal battle to defy the authorities of one of Australia's most severe convict settlements. The film blends reconstructed dramatic sequences with historical documentary.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's quite an epic story, the life of Ikey Solomon, if by epic we mean eventful, colourful, ever-twisting, often tinged with danger and suffering. The filmmakers have done a wonderful job of turning Ikey into a real character by having him tell us his own story through the performance of Ryk Goddard. This is in addition to having narrator, Miriam Margolyes, who stitches the story together.

Part historical documentary, part narrative film, The First Fagin offers information as well as entertainment as it time-travels into the 19th century. We get a glimpse of London and of Hobart and Port Arthur of the time, and neither is very appealing. The brutal system of criminal punishment forms an ever present backdrop to the story of Ikey and his family.

The performances are all excellent, with Goddard likeable as the well meaning and loving husband. He distances himself from mere thieves - he had class and he played fair as a fence for stolen goods. Carrie McLean is also great as the rather stoic Anne, a wife who endures extraordinary heartbreak and hardship - mostly as revenge by the authorities on Ikey.

Guy Gross has scored the work with a great sense of restraint and with evocative colours, and the production design is commendably naturalistic. Feeding our curiosity with its potential as the source material for the Fagin character in Oliver Twist, the film has a deeper resonance with its Australian connection. As for our sympathies, unlike the Fagin of Dickens' world, they tend to favour Ikey.

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(Aust, 2012)

CAST: Ryk Goddard, Carrie McLean, Thomas Byers, Harry Dub, Georgia Blizzard, Ellie Warmbrunn, Amery Jackson, Joe Bird, Natalie Gartlan, Amber Zooef, Liam Norris, Rogan Brown, Chris Cornish, James Casey, Mel King, Guy Hooper, Judith Cornish

NARRATION: Miriam Margolyes

PRODUCER: Veronica Fury, Alan Rosenthal, Stephen Thomas

DIRECTOR: Alan Rosenthal, Helen Gaynor

SCRIPT: Alan Rosenthal, Helen Gaynor (book by Judith Sackville-O'Donnell


EDITOR: Wayne Hyett ASE

MUSIC: Guy Gross

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 15, 2012

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