Storyline: Oliver is born into poverty and misfortune - the son of an unmarried mother, who dies shortly after his birth. He grows up in the workhouse, where the cruel Mr. Bumble oversees children tormented by starvation and suffering. When Oliver dares to ask for more gruel, he finds himself cast out and sold to an undertaker and his rascal son. Running away to London, Oliver meets the Artful Dodger and his gang, as well as the beautiful Nancy, and gets the first warm welcome of his life - but he is soon to discover that this kindness is not all it seems. As Oliver is drawn deeper into the dark and murky underworld, he remains unaware that the kind Mr. Brownlow is searching for him, while others - the brutal criminal Bill Sykes, the manipulative Fagin and the mysterious Mr. Monks - are vying to ruin and destroy his life.
Scenes: Very dark and foreboding for the most part. All fit well with the time period. There is a great contrast between the cluttered, dirty back streets where Fagin lives and the clean beautiful home of rich Mr. Brownlow. Oliver also travels across some lovely outdoor scenes on his way to London. There is a lot of detailed layers in all of the scenes.
Costumes: Similar to the sets, the costumes are vastly contrasted between the good and bad characters, between rich and poor. Bad characters are clad in clothing made with rich tones and textures that are frayed and often dirty, giving an overall raggedy appearance. I take some issue with this idea that folks who make their living from thieving can't even steal some halfway decent clothes and a bar of soap every now and then.
By stark contrast the good characters wear spotless garments in light bright fabrics and colors. Mr. Brownlow's young ward Rose had some especially lovely dresses and neat hairstyles, and his housekeeper had some neat lace caps and a pretty broach.
Music: One thing that gives this adaptation almost a modern day feel in many ways is the music. An upbeat opening theme song starts the viewer on the journey through this bizarre tale. But I found the music played during the exciting scenes of a chase, near escape or something bad happening rather distracting and overpowering as it often featured the sound of drums or electric guitar played at a fast pace. It certainly does help to quicken the heartbeat and cement the feeling of dread or concern but I think it was a bit much.
The opening and ending theme songs are actually quite catchy. My sister and I enjoy listening to them by themselves. I made this video featuring four songs and photos from the film.
Actors You Might Recognize: One thing I really enjoyed was the familiar faces that just kept popping up throughout the film. Here are some of the folks you might recognize and their other roles in period dramas.
- Edward Fox as Mr. Brownlow - I always enjoy seeing Edward Fox in a period drama! His unique voice and aristocratic appearance made him perfect as kindly Mr. Brownlow, in whose home Oliver finds refuge. His many period drama roles include Sir Hugo Mallinger in Daniel Deronda, Lane the Butler in The Importance of Being Earnest, also roles in Nicholas Nickleby (2002), Poirot: The Hollow, Miss Marple: The Secret of Chimneys, Hard Times (1977) and other older period films.
- Morven Christie as Miss Rose - As Mr. Brownlow's ward she welcomes Oliver Twist when he stays with them and is the first to sense the real threat to Oliver's life. If you've seen Lost In Austen then you'll recognize Morven Christie from her role as the lovely Jane Bennet. She also had a role in The Young Victoria.
- Anna Massey as Mrs. Bedwin - In the role as Mr. Brownlow's perceptive housekeeper Anna Massey is lovely. There was one scene in particular where she and Oliver sit chatting in a sunny dining room and the power of that scene just struck me, it was so peaceful and yet you felt the strength of Anna as an actress building the scene as it should be done. Even that brief scene reminded me of how much I enjoy Anna Massey and the diverse roles she's played throughout her career. Some of my favorites are Aunt Stanbury in He Knew He Was Right, Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest and Aunt Norris in Mansfield Park (1983), as well as her voice work for a few of my Jane Austen audio books.
- Julian Rhind-Tutt as Mr. Monks - The man of mystery who is pursuing Oliver Twist and making deals with criminals throughout the film. In the last few years I've been struck by his genius, especially in roles as the villain. His other period films include: The Madness of King George, Les Misérables, Stardust, The Shadow in the North, Marple: Ordeal by Innocence (in which he plays a bumbling professor!) and Poirot: Hallowe'en Party.
- Timothy Spall as Fagin - The scoundrel you love to hate, Fagin is often kind to the boys who steal for him but his deals with shady characters makes him a true villain. Timothy Spall's portrayal was an interesting one of a man who retains most of his Jewish heritage but errs from the path of true faith. It was a difficult role but as always Timothy Spall surprised and delighted. He was recently seen as Winston Churchill in The King's Speech, his other period films include Hamlet (1996), Our Mutual Friend, Nicholas Nickleby (2002), A Room With A View (2007), Enchanted and From Time To Time.
- Ruby Bentall as Charlotte - You'll have to look closely to catch this young sweetheart in the role of Charlotte, housemaid to the undertaker who buys Oliver Twist. Always delightful, Ruby Bentall is perhaps most recognizable from her role as the haphazard maid Minnie in Lark Rise to Candleford, but she also played Mary Bennet in Lost In Austen.
Oliver Twist but I believe the trouble that the author was pointing to was the horrible treatment children like Oliver were receiving at the hands of people who were supposed to be helping, and nothing about the religious beliefs or prejudices of the day. I'm probably wrong, but I just thought Fagin's court scene at the end of the film was rather unnecessary.
The things I did like were the beauty and sanctuary of Mr. Brownlow's London home. It is so completely in keeping with the time period and it's occupants are so truly kind and gracious. Rose is the sweetest creature imaginable and the housekeeper Mrs. Bedwin is kind and wise. I also enjoyed the mysterious scoundrel Mr. Monks and seeing how his search for informations about Oliver progressed. Minor characters like Mr. Bumble and his power-seeking fiancée Mrs, Corney are quite funny as they vie for more money from Mr. Monks - funny in a bit of a cruel way. For the most part I enjoyed young actor William Miller as Oliver Twist. He is a bit older than I imaged Oliver, and there are a few scenes where he's more outspoken than the Oliver of the book. But this young actor deserves great credit for his accent and the earnestness of his portrayal.
My Recommendations: This adaptation moves fairly quickly and the filmmakers added a bit of grit and adventure to the classic Dickens tale. It's an interesting look but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who likes a cleaner more polished period drama or is looking for a faithful adaptation. But to anyone who are fans of the actors this is a must see. Oliver Twist isn't a tale for the fain of heart, but it does end with the good triumphing and the bad being punished for their crimes.
Have you ever seen this adaptation? Did you enjoy it?
If you've read the book how does this adaptation compare?
Do you have a favorite character from Oliver Twist?
Do you feel they portrayed the characters well in this adaptation?
Trailer: This trailer is a preview from Masterpiece Theatre.
Very Truly Your's,