Roman Polanski’s “Oliver Twist” is yet another stab at bringing DWEM classic literature to the big screen. Would Charles Dickens be happy with it? I highly doubt it. Polanski condensed Dickens’s novel from 1841 down to two characters: Fagin (Ben Kingsley) and Bill Sykes (Jamie Foreman).
We seldom hear more than “Yes, sir” from Oliver (Barney Clark) and the only development Oliver is going through is the journey of a poor educated orphan to a wealthy situated orphan. Fagin on the other hand undergoes a catharsis of a kind while Sykes is the stereotypical remorseless villain.
Stuck in that web of thieves Oliver seems more like an extra througout the whole movie and only the Artful Dodger (Harry Eden) manages to stand out.
As “Oliver Twist” is firmly planted within a Victorian Age version of London the sets need to be able to transport that image and not only provide recognizable landmarks but create an atmosphere that enables the viewer to dive into that world. I could not recognize “London Bridge” and I am not alone in this. I also found my eye drawn more than once to the badly painted backdrop of St. Paul’s cathedral. This might seem like bickering about details but when it comes to atmosphere it all hinges on details and the slightest error can spoil the outcome. In all fairness I have to add that the streets of London are otherwise as gritty and muddy as Queen Victoria might have found them had she felt the urge to venture down to Fagin’s hideout.
So what has this movie going for it? Other than being based on a DWEM literature classic? Not much. There’s not one single memorable tune, the performances are so so most of the time with the exception for Dodger and Ben Kingsley although the latter has the seemingly insurmountable task of depicting an undemonized version of Fagin, in contrast to Dickens’s Fagin.
“Oliver Twist” is not a children’s book and making a PG movie out of it that fails to commit to the main character results in reducing the original material to something that cannot stand for its own and cannot match the source it has come from; standing somewhere in between you get average entertainment.