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The performances are excellent all around. Sophie Okonedo is a fine
Nancy, so thoroughly believable as is Tom Hardy, Timothy Spall and
Sarah Lancashire. The children playing Oliver and Dodger give subtle
performances, so were obviously directed extremely well.
I did not have any problems with the changes to the narrative and I know the novel well, but in the time constraints of the series, I thought the changes made sense. At first I thought the music surprising but very quickly I felt it suited the style of the story telling.
Very fine effort from the BBC, they are so thorough with period dramas, I can't remember the last time they stuffed one up.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Yes I understand this had a mixed bag of a reception. However, speaking
as someone who hasn't read the book, I have an open mind towards this
adaptation. I can say I was looking forward to it - having loved the
BBC's amazing 'Bleak House'.
Overall I think the story is well executed and Dicken's literature is treated with respect - but some people have pointed out differences from the book - which is a shame - yet I feel as a whole they didn't damage this too much.
Performances overall are very strong. I loved Gregor Fisher from 'Rab. C Nesbitt' as Mr. Bumble, the lead role of Oliver was good too - his performance wasn't annoying surprisingly. Timothy Spall is ace as Fagin, I think the first to use an Eastern European accent (quite brilliantly) he has a warm presence, which makes him perfect to look after a group of orphans. Sophie Okonedo is simply brilliant as Nancy - a very subtle performance. Her demise for me - was quite upsetting. Edward Fox is brilliant as usual as Mr. Brownlow, and Julian Rhind-Tutt gives a startling performance as the dreaded 'Mr. Monks'. For me however out of them all, top marks have to go to Tom Hardy who brilliantly played the turbulent Bill Sykes. His presence is felt throughout - Hardy isn't over the top, and therefore his performance is all the more menacing. The cast in my opinion - is truly memorable - all are excellent.
Finally I will talk about the setting and score. The slums of London are captured brilliantly - with bleak and bustling streets - gloomy workhouses and upper class residents are particularly effective in creating a realistic Victorian era London. The music is a big thing which has either impressed or repulsed. It has even been described as 'schizophrenic' by some. You could say this in that it sometimes comes across as a random and unpredictable cacophany - yet this for me was only a first impression. After a while I began to appreciate how and when the music was used - so overall I can say I liked the score very much - particularly the brilliant opening credits sequence where the main characters are sort of slide-showed, and the music is used well in moments of dramatic tension and character anguish. Hopefully the rather different use and approach to the score in a period drama - will be more seen as innovative as opposed to disruptive or unnecessary.
My only bad point about this adaptation would really be the length. Indeed - it was timed for the BBC's build up to Christmas season - so we couldn't really expect more than a weeks coverage. With the first episode on Tuesday 18th December lasting an hour - the rest up until the finale on Saturday 22nd only lasted half an hour. This happened I think with the brilliant aforementioned 'Bleak House' but that mini-series had a lot more hour long episodes. I think this adaptation would have been that bit better if it had lasted perhaps two weeks. Then again - short and sweet might have been the best. I also think one of the top EastEnders writers penned this - and as much as I loved the script and pace of this great drama - I could still pick up a hint of the soap-ish quality - hence I gave it 9 instead of 10/10.
Be that as it may - I simply loved this adaptation. I can't wait buy it on DVD - and highly recommend it. I hope it gets aired in the US soon - I know they love our period dramas. Even if the script or content or music or whatever is a letdown to adamant fans of Dicken's novel - I highly recommend this for the performances alone. Don't miss it!
In terms of Dickens dramatisations on televisions, this 2007
dramatisation of "Oliver Twist" is not as good as 2005's "Bleak House"
or 2008's "Little Dorritt", both of which were outstanding. In terms of
adaptations of this complicated book, it has its downsides but is a
solid one. My personal favourite version is the 1948 David Lean film,
that had gorgeous cinematography, dramatic music, masterly
story-telling, an outstanding Alec Guiness despite the admittedly
over-sized nose and a genuinely frightening Robert Newton. This
adaptation isn't as good as that version or the timeless 1968 musical,
but I personally preferred it over the 1982 TV film with George C.Scott
and Tim Curry, that had fine acting but hindered by some questionable
plot changes and the 2005 Roman Polanski film, which was decent but
bloated. The only one I haven't seen yet is the 1997 film with Elijah
Wood, by all means I will give it a chance but I have been told it is
one of the worst adaptations of the book.
Back on target, the period detail is excellent here with realistic looking sets and well tailored costumes. I for one liked the score, the opening sequence is wonderful, but there are also some dramatic, haunting and beautiful parts when it needed to be. The direction is good especially with Nancy's ghost, the scripting was above decent (I didn't notice any soapish qualities about it) and the pace was good. Dickens's book is insightful but complex in characterisation, particularly with Fagin, there are changes here but the storytelling was not that bad I thought. The acting is mostly very good, William Miller gives Oliver a fair amount of innocence while giving him some steel too. Sophie Okenedo is a subtle Nancy, Gregor Fisher is a suitably grotesque Mr Bumble, Edward Fox is a fine Mr Brownlow and Julian Rhind-Tutt is startling as Monks. The best characterisation though was Tom Hardy as Bill Sikes. Sikes is a turbulent, big, burly and violent man and not only did Hardy meet all of these brilliantly, his interpretation was also emotionally complex.
However, there were one or two disappointments. I may be the only one who was disappointed in Timothy Spall's Fagin. I have nothing personal against Spall, far from it, he is an exceptional actor, but Fagin is supposed to be in my opinion oily, vile and manipulative. Fagin here was more reminiscent of WormTail but with an accent and he was too passive. Away from the casting, the other flaw was the length, having been timed during the Christmas season the later part of the dramatisation felt rather stretched.
Overall, this is a good dramatisation, not outstanding but worth the look. 8/10 Bethany Cox
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Dickens' Oliver Twist has been the subject of many adaptations,
including the movie version of the god-awful stage musical. It is this
one, and a subsequent version made for American television in 1997 that
I have seen most recently and it is with those that I make my
comparisons. (I have seen all or part of at least 3 others, but not
recently, including the Roman Polanski version). In terms of overall
realism, this version far outstrips many of the others. This may or may
not be a good thing, depending on whether you want a jolly fairy-tale
or a sobering social commentary. If the former, don't bother with this
Despite the presence of a number of good actors, I found some of the performances a bit disappointing. In particular, the lead William Miller was sometimes lacking in emotion. However, this performance brought out something quite different than other versions. In those Oliver is often presented as a gentle innocent. Miller's Oliver, on the other hand, conveys something steely under his youth. He is no victim of circumstance, swept along by events, but a character who has the potential to grow into someone even a Bill Sykes would fear. The performance of Hardy as Sykes was almost completely lacking in the menace that an actor like Oliver Reed could convey even in the silliest of musicals. As Nancy, Sophie Okenado conveyed a totally new version of the character. After the initial surprise, I forgot about the issue of "colour" and could believe in her totally as a character of the time. The savagery of her death, however, was strangely low-key in comparison to the rest of the movie. I thought Timothy Spall was excellent, perhaps the best thing in the movie, giving this Fagin a depth. When he would rather hang than renounce his religion, Spall's Fagin achieves near nobility. Finally, the end of the series was very thought-provoking, contrasting as it did the fates of two young boys: Dodger and Twist. Oliver Twist, child of an upper-class family, is shown in a happy Christmas scene reunited with his loving family and destined to a life of ease. Dodger, on the other hand, who is shown with particular sympathy in this version, is left to find the body of his beloved Nancy and to listen to his protector Fagin's death by hanging. In the end, he walks away a little Sykes in the making. The message is clear.
I feel sorry for anyone who makes his first acquaintance with Dickens'
classic through this ill-conceived version that tampers irreparably
with the original story.
The first mistake was hiring a screenwriter best-known for work on a British soap to write the script. She felt obligated to make it more "hip" by inserting words and dialog that aren't appropriate to the time period, and by completely twisting parts of the plot and some of its main characters. For instance, the comic subplot of Bumble and Corny leaves out some of the best scenes, and instead "sexes up" the Widow Corny. And Oliver himself is changed from a lost innocent into a smart-mouthed punk. (PS - I know that Corny is spelled with an "e" but IMDb's spell- checker keeps changing it.)
The casting doesn't help. Timothy Spall, who is wonderful in almost everything he does, never seems to settle in to the character of Fagin, and the make-up and hair artists make him look like an ugly fat woman most of the time. Nancy has changed color, Bill Sykes is nothing more than a yobbo, not the looming villain so well-portrayed by Oliver Reed in the musical version. Even the reliable Edward Fox turns in a two-dimensional performance as Brownlow.
The music score is also horrendous, jumping from style to style but never anything remotely Victorian. (Electric guitar? Banjo? Steel drums?)
I don't have a problem with making new versions of classics. I also don't have a problem with updating classics, as in WEST SIDE STORY or even Baz Luhrman's ROMEO + JULIET. But what we have in OLIVER TWIST is a warped classic, a hack's idea of making a great plot more palatable for the 21st-century audience. You can change the ambiance or the costumes, but don't give us a new story and claim it's a classic. This type of bilge is running rampant in current British productions (Wuthering Heights, Marple, etc.). Seek out an older version for something that resembles the original, or at least holds the original in high regard. The director and screenwriter for this production obviously see Dickens as raw material to be improved upon. The joke is on them.
A wonderful and very modern retelling of a classic story. Quirky and
charming in equal measures, this particular take on Oliver Twist is a
worthy watch indeed, and even riveting at times. If you happen to come
across a copy in your local video shop, I will personally vouch for
this title as money well spent.
Though just a miniseries, I and several friends of mine all agreed that this adaptation of the Charles Dickens' novel may well have stood itself in good stead on the big screen. Sharp and clever pacing makes sure the viewers attention is continually upheld and a bouncing, almost vaudevillian soundtrack is used to wonderful effect (note the fantastic opening credits). The portrayal of London's squalid tenements are vividly painted in their every frame; costume and make-up were very skillfully handled.
Performances, on the whole, lean towards sparkling. Timothy Spall stole the show in his portrayal of Fagin; Tom Hardy made a startling and utterly believable turn as Bill Sikes. The female roles were excellently cast - Sophie Okonedo shone as the ill-fated Nancy; Morven Christie played the character of Rose with grace and heart; and Sarah Lancashire, in the role of Mrs Corny, was quite frankly fantastic. William Miller handled the role of Oliver admirably, never overacting - his utterance of the infamous "Please, sir, I want some more" sets the tone of his performance from the start.
I would urge anyone who asked to seek this title out. If the mixed reviews have left you doubting, ignore them. Grab a copy and make up your own mind. Gritty, smart, stylish and poignant, Coky Giedroyc and Sarah Phelps have birthed a winner in their adaptation of Oliver Twist. A gem.
Ten out of Ten
I'm surprised that this adaptation of the Dickens classic has received so many negative reviews and that there are comparisons with the musical which is a whole different type of production. All the performances are very strong, although I think that the Artful Dodger could do with a few more acting lessons. I thought that Tom Hardy, Sophie Okonedo and Timothy Spall were particularly outstanding. Viewers seem to expect the characters to be fairly one-dimensional and stereotyped - just because Bill Sykes is a psychopath doesn't mean he has to yell all the time! I think that the director did a good job of portraying the harshness and grime of Victorian London and the cruelty and depravity of the era also. I don't want to see Dickens adaptations through a soft focus lens, this is what I want from a period piece. I do agree about the randomness of the music though.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I thought that a coloured Nancy was actually more realistic than a white Nancy as it shows the depravity that was associated with ethnic minorities in those days. In the book, I thought it was strange that Nancy was so uprighteously good but in the film she's got a 'fallen angel' thing going on which I love. Bill Sikes was played FANTASTICALLY! I'm glad that they gave Fagin an accent because it proves how isolated Jewish people would've been in those days (and how easy to spot). There was something quite repulsive about Fagin throughout but in the end I couldn't help feeling sorry for him especially in the final court scene and in the scene where the Artful Dodger goes to see him last (tears). I thought the actual Oliver was a bit irrelevant to the plot (LOL). I was much more interested in the Artful Dodger, Fagin, Nancy and Sikes. Overall a good performance!
Okay, I know Dickens is a classic writer but the plot of his second
novel was botched to blazes so I can quite understand why a new remake
would want to edit out the major improbabilities, but it made up for
what it lacked by an artfully constructed atmosphere of pervasive gloom
and menace and by some truly memorable villains.
On the plus side, this adaption has a much smoother plot. On the minus what a heinous chunk of bowdlerised rubbish this production is. For example - why is Oliver sold, not bought as he is in the novel? Is that horror too much, of children available to the highest bidder? Why are the lovely visitengland.com cobbles so clean, not the stinking filth of the Victorian city? Fagin has conveniently placed two tier bunk beds in his lair for the boys to sleep in, (I've stayed in worse looking youth hostels), hardly the actions of a man and a gang hunted from hide-out to hide out as he is in the book.
What is the flipping point of getting in an actress with the chops of Sophie Okonedo if you are going to mutilate the part to nothing but noble suffering. Nancy was tough, she was a sneak, a player, a genuine conflicted woman in a bad place who could still brag "there's not many people besides me that could have got out of their way." She had the nous to drug Bill Sikes with laudanum... but here she's just a cipher. It's a sad waste of one of Dickens' few interesting female roles.
BTW, 19th century London was a lot more culturally diverse than some of the American reviewers here seem to believe: try google for "The London Committee for the relief of the Back Poor" of 1786 for examples. By 1838 many brothels (Dickens' Nancy was a prostitute) offered women billed as "dusky nefertitis" and suchlike.
But the worst character destruction must be that of Bill Sikes, formerly the murderous embodiment of brutalised evil, now well a dog loving softie who spends a night in a mill pond protecting Olivers safety and carries him back to London in his arms. The artful dodger complains when not sent on a job with him. The deal with Bill Sikes is you'd have to be mad to want to go on a job with him. He's supposed to be terrifying. Best left alone. Here he's just a misunderstood wus who threatens Fagin for being mean to his dog.
The Gothic horror has been bled from Monks' character too, now just a regular upper middle class slimeball, although it's slightly concerning to see the BBC, even in the midst of its very best family-friendly clean up job, keeps a birthmark as a proof that he's born evil.
All in all, a washed out, soul-less load of tripe. This adaption might give the story more sense, but it thoroughly loses its soul.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This isn't one of BBC's greatest moments. I wouldn't go as far to call this rubbish But though a great production it falls down on many levels. For the authenticity the BBC has made a little effort and all due credit, but I did think that have a coloured Nancy did detract from the realism for me Sophie Okowendo is a great actress but I feel the part of Nancy was not for her. Fagin was a bit of a let down he was just so passive. Even when he was hanged (which as far as I know, this is the only production to show that, if only in sound!) The real problem with this production for me. is Sikes' death. If you are being true to the book, he does not exactly hang himself. In the book he attempts to escape over the rooftops. he makes a noose and slips it over his head. He is getting ready to slip it under his armpits when He sees Nancy's eyes in the darkness! He screams in terror and loses his footing and so hangs himself by accident! I always expected Sikes to be macho and tough (like Oliver Reed and Robert Newton) and an utter psycho this Sykes was, like Fagin, too passive. It's worth a watch but if you want a good production watch David Lean's version!
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