Tuesday 18th January 2022

Oliver Twist (PG)
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Reviewed by: Paul Fonz

When it comes to the classic Dickens tale Oliver Twist, I don't think you need to look further than David Lean's masterful version from 1948. In this day and age, however, not everyone is comfortable watching a black and white film, even when it has been made by one of Britain's most renowned directors, so Roman Polanski has stepped up to produce a new version, the thirteenth big screen adaptation by my count.

Ben Kingsley as Fagin
Ben Kingsley as Fagin

When you're dealing with a Dickens novel, you know the storyline is going to be strong enough to make a good film, even if it ventures into the faintly ridiculous at times. The onus, therefore, is on the cast and crew to make sure the story is told in an entertaining and interesting way. Unfortunately, the first thing that struck me about this film is that some of the actors didn't seem to be doing their best to achieve this goal.

Several members of the supporting cast gave lifeless and uncharismatic performances that almost felt like they were reading their lines out loud to memorise them rather than trying to act. Harry Eden, who appeared in the woeful Peter Pan, is too fresh-faced to play the Artful Dodger, the grizzled veteran of the pick-pocketing scene, although he does at least give it a fair crack. Bill Sykes is also quite disappointing to watch, as the character isn't given the life he deserves by television extra Jamie Foreman.

Conversely, Ben Kingsley steals the show with a wonderful performance as Fagin and he is well supported by Leanne Rowe in her first major role as Nancy. However, the pair of them can't quite make up for the uneven performance of the cast as a whole. Even Oliver himself seems to have trouble with the speaking part of his job, although I'll concede he does a fine line in looking miserable.

Roman Polanski has made some cracking films over the course of his career and while this is not up there with his best, it is still an enjoyable piece of cinema. The sets for this film are a feast for the eyes, although their similarity to the ones in Lean's version leads one to think Polanski has borrowed from somewhere. The plot of the film and each character's motivation is a lot easier to understand with Polanski at the helm too, which is partly achieved by carefully pruning out unnecessary parts of the story. Regrettably, most of the references to Oliver's mother are lost in this process, which does make the outcome of the film more plausible, but also removes some of the mystery from the story.

While Polanski has been off the boil a bit of late, he really returns to form at the end of this film with a gruesome and unsettling series of scenes, which adds an almost downbeat feel to a story with a traditionally happy ending, and for my money, that's one of the few things that make this film worth seeing over David Lean's truly brilliant adaptation.

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Length: 130 minutes
Certificate: PG
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IMDB Link:
Release Date: 7th October 2005

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