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Oliver Twist

Original poster
Directed by Roman Polanski
Produced by Roman Polanski
Robert Benmussa
Alain Sarde
Written by Ronald Harwood
Based on the novel by Charles Dickens
Starring Ben Kingsley
Barney Clark
Jamie Foreman
Harry Eden
Leanne Rowe
Music by Rachel Portman
Cinematography Paweł Edelman
Editing by Hervé de Luze
Distributed by TriStar Pictures (USA)
Pathe (UK/France)
Release date(s) September 23, 2005
Running time 130 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $60 million [1]
Gross revenue $42,580,321 (Worldwide) [1]

Oliver Twist is a 2005 British drama film directed by Roman Polanski. The screenplay by Ronald Harwood is based on the 1838 novel of the same title by Charles Dickens.

The film was preceded by numerous adaptations of the Dickens book, including several feature films, three television movies, two miniseries, and a stage musical that became an Academy Award-winning movie.

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2005 before going into limited release in the United States on September 23.

Contents

Plot

Set in c.1838, the story focuses on young orphan Oliver Twist, who is spared from working as a chimney sweep when kindly Mr. Sowerberry offers him a position as an apprentice coffin maker. After enduring verbal and physical excuse at the hands of unsympathetic Mrs. Sowerberry and taunting senior assistant Noah Claypole, Oliver runs away and travels seventy miles to London on foot. There he meets Jack Dawkins, known as the Artful Dodger, who offers him food and lodging with Fagin, the leader of a band of boys he has trained as pickpockets.

Oliver is falsely accused of stealing the silk handkerchief of wealthy Mr. Brownlow, and when he is proven innocent the man brings him to his mansion and provides him with new clothes and the promise of a good education. Fagin and his associate Bill Sikes fear the boy will identify them, and when Oliver is sent on an errand he is grabbed on the street by Sikes and Nancy, a young prostitute who lives with him, and the two convince the bystanders he is a runaway. They return him to Fagin's lair, where he is kept under constant watch until Sikes and his crony Toby Crackit force him to help them rob Mr. Brownlow's home late at night. Oliver tries to escape and is shot in the arm by Sikes in the ensuing melee, and the trio flee the scene, the burglary aborted.

Nancy, taking pity on Oliver, goes to Mr. Brownlow's home and tells housekeeper Mrs. Bedwin to have her employer meet Nancy on London Bridge at midnight. Unaware the Artful Dodger has followed her at the behest of a suspicious Fagin, she tells Mr. Brownlow Oliver is being held prisoner and assures him the local police will know where to find Fagin and thus the boy. Sikes learns of Nancy's betrayal and brutally beats her to death. With the police looking for him, Fagin, and Oliver, everyone takes refuge with Toby Crackit, but Sikes' dog Bullseye leads the authorities to the hideout. Sikes tries to escape with Oliver as a hostage, but accidentally hangs himself, and the boy is rescued.

Once again safely living with Mr. Brownlow, Oliver asks the man to bring him to see the imprisoned Fagin, who has been sentenced to the gallows for his crimes. Although the old man is in the midst of a mental breakdown, he recognizes Oliver and embraces him. The boy, remembering Fagin as a kindly benefactor, begs the prison officials to free him. Mr. Brownlow leads Oliver back to his carriage and they depart for home, leaving Fagin to await his fate.

Production

In Twist by Polanski, a bonus feature on the DVD release of the film, Roman Polanski discusses his decision to make yet another screen adaptation of the Dickens novel. Following The Pianist, he was anxious to make a film his children could enjoy. He realized nearly forty years had passed since Oliver Twist had been adapted for a feature film and felt it was time for a new version. Screenwriter Ronald Harwood, with whom he had collaborated on The Pianist, welcomed the opportunity to work on the first Dickens project in his career.

For authenticity, all scenes featuring pickpocketing were choreographed by Stage Pickpocket James Freedman and London Magician Martyn Rowland.

The film was shot in Prague, Beroun, and Žatec in the Czech Republic.

Cast

Critical reception

A.O. Scott of the New York Times called it a "bracingly old-fashioned" film that "does not embalm its source with fussy reverence. Instead, with tact and enthusiasm, Mr. Polanski grabs hold of a great book and rediscovers its true and enduring vitality." He added, "The look of the movie . . . is consistent with its interpretation of Dickens's worldview, which could be plenty grim but which never succumbed to despair. There is just enough light, enough grace, enough beauty, to penetrate the gloom and suggest the possibility of redemption. The script . . . is at once efficient and ornate, capturing Dickens's narrative dexterity and his ear for the idioms of English speech." [2]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said the film "is visually exact and detailed without being too picturesque . . . The performances are more vivid and edgy than we might suspect; Kingsley's Fagin is infinitely more complex than in the usual versions." [3]

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle observed, "Roman Polanski, who was stranded in Paris without his parents during World War II, clearly understands the predicament of the title character . . . Personal experience doesn't cause the director to emphasize the biographical parallels, nor does it lead him into subjectivity or sentimentality. On the contrary, Polanski's firsthand knowledge that such things can really happen to a boy results in a grounded and unusually matter-of-fact adaptation . . . [He] does justice to Dickens' moral universe, in which the motives and worldview of even the worst people are made comprehensible." [4]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated the film two out of four stars, calling it "drab and unfeeling" and "lacking the Polanski stamp." He thought, "As played by Barney Clark, Oliver seems bereft of personality. And Harry Eden as the Artful Dodger . . . lacks the comic spirit to animate the role." [5]

Todd McCarthy of Variety said, "Conventional, straightforward and very much within what used to be called the Tradition of Quality, this handsome film is a respectable literary adaptation but lacks dramatic urgency and intriguing undercurrents . . . Kingsley does a fine job, instilling Fagin with a certain feebleness and insecurity that make him more pathetic than hateful. Unfortunately, it's a level of performance unmatched by most of the other actors . . . Crucially, Barney Clark is disappointingly wan and unengaging in the title role, giving the film a hole in the middle; when he disappears for a spell in the latter-going, it's a bit of a relief." [6]

Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly graded the film B+ and commented, "On the face of it, Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist . . . is in the tradition of every faithful Oliver Twist ever filmed — a photogenic, straightforward, CliffsNotes staging of Charles Dickens' harrowing story . . . Yet precisely because this is by Roman Polanski, it's irresistible to read his sorrowful and seemingly classical take, from a filmmaker known as much for the schisms in his personal history as for the lurches in his work, as something much more personal and poignant." [7]

Steve Persall of the St. Petersburg Times graded the film C+ and commented, "Polanski plays it safe, which is to say dutifully dull, by staging Dickens' tale of child abuse and class conflict in a fashion that hasn't changed much since David Lean's 1948 adaptation. Polanski simply has better costumers and carpenters than Lean to fake 19th century London's grimy side. This is a superior rendition of the same old thing but it's still the same old thing . . . Kingsley's grotesque, over-the-moon performance is embarrassing; cackling through latex wrinkles and false teeth probably misshapen from gnawing on the scenery . . . He makes Fagin little more than an eccentric foster grandfather rather than the wicked exploiter Dickens described. Ron Moody's musical take on the character in 1968's Oliver! seemed more dangerous. Alec Guinness' portrayal in Lean's version, reviled for its hammy nature in some circles, is almost subdued by comparison." [8]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it "a decent, watchable film, not obviously more powerful or personal than a teatime-telly version. It is an adaptation with gusto and spirit, content to let the central story do the work, having had a thicket of minor characters and subplots chopped out. There are no great flourishes of cinematography, no novelties of interpretation or design other than to put Fagin closer to the centre of the story and make him a little more sympathetic . . . Polanski respectfully reproduces Dickens's combustible black-comic rage. But despite the pain and fear, the hangings and the beatings, there is always a nagging disquiet that what Polanski thinks he is giving us is basically a much-loved children's classic. He is directing a handsome repro edition . . . bound in celluloid calf and lightly sprinkled with the picturesque movie dust of Old London Town. His Oliver Twist does not flag or lose its way and it is always watchable, but the book's original power and force have not been rediscovered." [9]

Philip French of The Observer said, "Behind the opening and closing credits . . . are Gustave Doré's steel engravings of London and its inhabitants. They are elegant, appropriate and suitably atmospheric. What comes between them is much less satisfactory . . . In a generally disappointing, though by no means badly acted film, two brief performances stand out. As the outrageously peremptory and overbearing magistrate Mr Fang, Alun Armstrong is both funny and shocking, while Mark Strong combines comedy and menace as the dandyish burglar with the great name of Toby Crackit." [10]

DVD release

Sony Pictures released the film on DVD on January 24, 2006. It is in anamorphic widescreen format with audio tracks and subtitles in English and French. Bonus features include Twist by Polanski, in which the director reflects on the making of the film; The Best of Twist, which includes interviews with production designer Allan Starski, costume designer Anna B. Sheppard, cinematographer Paweł Edelman, editor Hervé de Luze, and composer Rachel Portman; and Kidding with Oliver Twist, which focuses on the young actors in the cast.

References

External links

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