on 12 September 2006
Alan Bleasdale's excellent adaptatation of Charles Dickens' classic story of a young boy who's life in Victorian England is far from perfect. His mother died in child birth, so he is brought up in an orphanage, then moved to a work house. Under nourished, he has the nerve to ask for more. From that moment on, the boy begins a journey that sees him fall in to the company of a gang of thieves led by Fagin, superbly played by Robert Lyndsay. He later meets a gentleman, Mr. Brownlow (Micheal Kitchen)who unknowingly holds the key to the boy's future as well as answers from his past. Sam Smith plays Oliver with a depth of character not seen before or since in any other dramatisation. With a stunning supporing cast including Julie Walters, Roger Lloyd Pack, Alun Armstrong, Sophia Myles and Lindsay Duncan. Andy Serkis is chilling as Bill Sykes and Marc Warren is just brilliant as Monks. Very high production values make this look stunning and in some ways better than the recent cinema release. Bleasdale expands a back story, only briefly touched on in the original work, to add intense complexity to the story. It is a brave move, as it makes the drama run to nearly six and a half hours! It pays off though, as so many loose ends get tied up to make the story make sense as it never has before. Originally made for and shown on ITV in 1999, it is proof that when they try, they can make superb dramas. I hope and believe this to be the unabridged version, as subsequent repeats on TV had major cuts made, so as to appeal to a younger audience. In my opinion, this is the best screen version of Dickens' Classic tale.
on 2 May 2009
Having watched this version of the Dickens tale serialised on television I knew I had to own it. When great works of literature such as this are dramatised on television it is usual for serious liberties to be taken which very often render the original story almost unrecognisable. Not so in this case. Alan Bleasdale has adhered faithfully to the Dickens story and though long, not a minute is wasted in bringing the story vividly to life - and I mean LIFE. The casting alone is a stroke of genius, each actor being hand-picked for the part. Robert Lindsay, whom I have only ever seen playing comedy roles plays the part of Fagin to perfection. The prison scene in which he has finally lost his mind is a truly powerful performance worthy of an actor of the very highest calibre. Andy Serkis too delivers an extremely impressive characterisation, portraying the truly evil side of Bill Sykes - "chilling" as one reviewer has said. It would take too long to mention each actor's role individually. Michael Kitchen, David Ross, Julie Walters, Marc Warren, the list of first-class British actors is endless. Each one perfectly cast. There have been other dramatisations of this timeless story, but for my money this is the one to have.
on 2 March 2013
In order to enjoy this six-hour adaptation, you need to be aware that it was 'inspired by' the original text of Oliver Twist. The first hour and a half (one quarter of the adaptation) is not in the book at all and is an 'explanation' of what 'might' have led up to events described late in the book. There are lots of other differences from the book, eg Oliver's father is murdered, there is a relative with a large growth on his neck, and the evil murderess Mrs Leeford is a central character in this adaptation, but barely mentioned in the book. The Artful Dodger is a youth of 16-17, rather than a boy. Fagin, for some reason, does conjuring tricks! Monks has an epileptic fit every time he's persuaded to do something that conflicts with his better nature. If you can accept all this, you will probably feel, as I did, that all performances are outstanding, as is the direction and period detail - altogether a high-quality production. However, I do worry that I will now confuse my memory of the actual book with the events in this production, as they are so very different. So do be aware that this isn't Oliver Twist as Dickens wrote it!
on 7 March 2014
Let's be clear; if you want to put Dickens on film or stage, you're going to *have* to adapt the text, there is just no way that his rambling, grandiloquent and episodic stories are going to fit either medium without trimming; he was writing weekly episodes, not screenplays. One reason his works are so well-known is that they are eminently adaptable to acting - because they aren't the easiest to read.
And adaption can be a good thing. Did you know, for instance, that in the book, Noah Claypole re-enters the story 3/4 of the way in, and joins Fagin, and it is he that follows Nancy, not Dodger, who by then has been transported? I don't think I've seen any version where that storyline has been preserved.
No surprise than that Alan Bleasdale has altered Oliver Twist, but possibly rather more than most; this version begins not with Oliver's birth, but with his conception, and the first part (of four) tells the Bleasdale version of this backstory, and with some creative aplomb. The whole sad account of Edward Leaford's doomed love for Agnes Fleming, destroyed by his horrible, scheming, estranged wife (Lindsay Duncan on fine, furniture-chewing form) told over the first ninety minutes, setting philanthropic Brownlow and weird, stalkerish Monks very firmly in place.
It's a unique move, and all credit to those that it works as well as it does. Much of it is extrapolated from what the novel tells us; Oliver's parents were not married, his father made a curious will, there was a child of the previous marriage named Edwin Leaford, Oliver's mother was Agnes and she died, in childbirth, in the workhouse.
Horrible Mrs Leaford is the most egregious of Bleasdale's additions, but Dickens never said that Edwin (ie Monks) wasn't the son of such a dragon, and - if you consider his character - there's plenty to suggest that he was. It makes sense.
The second adjustment is that to Fagin and his gang; Fagin in this is a Prague Jew and former travelling magician - 'The Great Lovinski' - and the leading lights of the gang were all part of the show. Add to this that Nancy is Fagin's daughter, and that Dodger is not an 11 year old scamp, rather he's a 16 year old violent proto-Bill Sikes and a very nasty piece of work. If the Great Lovinski is a touch fantastical, and I'm not entirely convinced that Fagin the father would be quite so willing to allow Sikes to punish Nancy the daughter, I'm at least re-assured by Robert Lindsay's performance as the magical Jew, which really is a work of art; the dessembling and manipulation of the master criminal, presented as showmanship.
Andy Serkis produces a horrible, hulking, brutish Sikes (and he doesn't look like Andy Serkis, which is something of an acheivement), a very damaged East End villian, and meanwhile Emily Woof as Nancy is very much a prostitute (as is Bet), and quite obviously a DV survivor - until he kills her.
One gang member seen less often in productions than others is 'Flash' Toby Crakitt (Andrew Schofield), supposedly the plausible charmer who can infiltrate respectable society, but if he is the best they've got, and they think he's *good* that just shows how ignorant Fagin and co. are of the world of Brownlow and the Maylies - Crackitt really is stretching himself when he tries to charm Brownlow's dumpy maid - he is obviously dodgy, and really doesn't fit in.
Michael Kitchen plays a quixotic, hgihly failable Brownlow, whose high-minded goodness turns rapidly to disgust when Crackitt blackens Oliver's character. After Grimwig (a manipulative John Grillo) wins his argument, Brownlow has nothing more to do with him, and wants nothing more to do with Oliver; it's quite a tantrum.
And it says much of this Twist that Brownlow's goodness is not beyond suspicion - Oliver is not the first boy he has tried to befriend and take home - and this serial philanthropy does not go unquestioned (even if the question is not quite spoken) - after all, this was made in 1999, so how could it?
Other delightful performances - Annette Crosbie as Mrs Bedwin, Julie Walters as Mrs Mann, David Ross as an incredibly stupid Bumble, Roger Lloyd Pack as Sowerberry, and Liz Smith as a suitably corrupt and scabrous Old Sally. *And!* Michael Bertenshaw as Doctor Butchard, the man that brings Oliver into the world. He really should be Dr Who.
And there is a flash of completely unexpected comedy with Sam Kelly (Giles) and Morgan Jones (Brittles) chasing burglars (not very fast) at Chertsey - and it's not the darkly sardonic wit of the rest of the production - if it wasn't funny it'd be wrong.
Oh, not forgetting Alan Pentony, playing the Irish dwarf with his patent stain remover - I can't see why Bleasdale wrote him in, unless it was to give a mate a job - but I'm glad he did; Dickens should have thought of him.
on 10 January 2004
Alan Bleasdale, God bless him, has courageously and marvelously reprised this wonderful tale. I feel that Mr. Charles Dickens himself might well have re-ordered the telling of Oliver's adventures in like manner, had the opportunity not been pre-empted by his serializing the original. As an adept of melodrama, the Great Man might certainly approve of this adaptation.
The screen production is almost perfect. It has period charm, good music, humour, excitement, terror and pathos all in proportion - and excellent casting from top to bottom. Not one of the salient characters seems out of place, or too shallow.
I find this version of Oliver exhilarating. It is a much treasured addition, to my film library, that I'm sure will not grow tiresome with the passing years.
The voice-track on the VHS version is a little distorted. A DVD version would be VERY WELCOME - and the sooner the better.