Reviews

Oliver Twist

Director Coky Giedroyc uses stark colors, complex textures, and an unusual soundtrack to bring to life the classic characters and complement some fabulous acting talent.


Oliver Twist

Distributor: Warner
Cast: William Miller, Timothy Spall, Sophie Okenedo, Adam Arnold, Gregor Fisher, Tom Hardy, Sarah Lancashire, Julian Rhind-Tutt
Length: 176
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: BBC
UK Release Date: 2007-12-18
US Release Date: 2009-02-24
Amazon
Amazon

Though some details of Charles Dickens' novel are conflated in this new adaptation of the classic tale, overall this is an admirable re-telling. Originally created as a made-for TV series, five episodes gave director Coky Giedroyc enough space to add some details from her own vision of the story, with the help of writer Sarah Phelps. In this new version of the story of an orphaned boy who overcomes an unlucky birth, general adversity, and outright malice to find happiness with a new family through a bizarre series of serendipitous events, Oliver Twist (William Miller) has a spunky spirit, though his bland, angelic features won't give it away.

Each episode starts with a slightly off-key circus theme, showcasing the maudlin cast of characters one by one in their dingy urban glory. A greasy long-haired Fagin (Timothy Spall) crowns the credit sequence with a grotesque bow after whirling on the camera and giving a sinister grin. Fagin is one of the strongest characters in the production, showing a great depth of emotion that ranges from scrabbling to keep himself and the boys who he has trained to pick pockets alive, to loyalty only to himself and his pet bird Ezekiel, to a stubborn devotion to the Jewish faith which reveals him as principled and only human after all.

The score of the whole series is refreshingly unconventional. Rather than sticking to one genre of music, a variety of instrumental pieces underscore critical scenes. Oliver's well-known walk up the aisle of the children's workhouse where he spends his miserable youth is accompanied by a rollicking guitar riff sequence. "Please sir, I want some more."

Once Oliver gets free of his slave-like boyhood home and reaches London with barely the clothes on his back and no shoes on his feet, he's quickly picked up by the Artful Dodger. Dressed in manky top hat and tattered tails, Adam Arnold plays the grungy little pickpocket with aplomb. It turns out that the top hat and crushed velveteen jacket is a sort of urchin uniform, as the rest of the boys in Fagin's thief stable are similarly garbed.

Fagin's quarters are sumptuous, in a poverty-stricken sensual sort of way: plentiful greasy food, a flickering fireplace, and colorful handkerchiefs hanging from criss-crossing laundry lines. Fagin snaps one down to give Oliver his first lesson in picking pockets.

The warm yet dingy, crowded yet cozy space of Fagin and the street boys contrasts strongly with the 'home' Oliver has left: the workhouse he grew up in was filmed in grays and smoky blues, smacking of misery and an indefinable chilliness. From the flickering candlelight of the London street community, Oliver's environment is changed yet again, as he is taken in by a kindly older gentleman and his gentle ward, Rose. The home of these upper echelon residents is lit with natural light, and largely colorless. Even the curls of the sweet elderly housekeeper are bleached. From a uniformly white bedroom to an equally pale sitting room, there is no doubt that Oliver has left the squalor of the workhouse as well as the life of a petty criminal behind.

Until, of course, Bill Sikes and his partner Nancy snatch him back again, afraid that Oliver will rat out Fagin and his crew. Fagin has a new plan for Oliver, when a gentleman who calls himself Monks charges him with killing the boy for mysterious reasons. Monks (Julian Rhind-Tutt) is such a caricature that his evilness manifests itself physically in the shape of a splotchy birthmark on his face. In the end, all the pieces of the puzzle are put together because of this identifying mark, and Monks comes across as a truly psychotic villain as he refuses to apologize for wanting Oliver dead.

Sikes (Tom Hardy) is malicious and violent, true to Dickens' original character, and Nancy (Sophie Okenedo) balances his cruelty. Okenedo gives a moving performance as the young woman who sees that she can make a difference in someone's life by helping Oliver escape Monks' clutches, even after she helped Sikes and Fagin recapture the boy. Nancy's empathy and despair at the harshness of the life she is embroiled in reveals a depth of character that brings out Oliver's true nature as well: when given the chance to remember the mother he never knew but has fiercely defended all his life, Oliver pays tribute to Nancy instead.

An additional feature of this DVD is a behind-the-scenes look at some of the changes the screenwriter and director made to Dickens' story. A New Twist on Oliver Twist is a wonderful exploration of the actors' comments on the project. The costume and set designers also get a chance to talk about their roles in the production. Taped during the original filming, it's great to get the viewpoint of actors who are still in full costume.

Clearly everyone involved with the adaptation was thrilled to be a part of it all. Miller is particularly enthusiastic in describing how he got the part of Oliver, and Arnold delights in demonstrating how his native north London accent is vastly different from his mastery of the Artful Dodger's "souff" one. In either time period, they're just a couple of boys, even with all the hard knocks 19th century London could throw at them.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.