Oliver Twist, BBC1

by | Dec 18, 2007 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

After an amateurish, over-contrived opening during which we thought we’d mistakenly stumbled on a primary school play, it soon metamorphosed into a fantastically gripping drama serial with outstanding acting.

What was good about it?

• The superb pacing that enabled each episode to be divided, almost cynically (but it was far too good for this to become intrusive), between happiness, misery, contemplation, comedy and violence.

• Tom Hardy was astonishing as Bill Sikes; in fact he may have been too good. For you ended up wishing those scenes in which he was absent would race by just so he could appear again. He was utterly menacing, moving into shot like a lethal shadow, but he also transformed Bill into a three-dimensional character capable of great tenderness towards Nancy (even after he murders her). And it was these unexpected facets that made his malevolence all the more potent such as in the shocking surprise when he lays out the Artful Dodger with a single punch.

• Once we got used to his peculiar accent Timothy Spall’s Fagin was a sycophantic foil for Sikes. Spall was able to create an equally rounded role to that of Hardy, for while he reviled for the way in which he exploited the young boys as thieves, he wasn’t necessarily evil, and this made his execution all the more moving.

• William Miller as Oliver was also superb, conveying the isolation and frustration of a confused young boy abroad in unfamiliar surroundings. While his co-star Adam Arnold as the Artful Dodger sometimes swayed uneasily on the frayed rope bridge between stage school and the East End improved markedly as the story progressed, especially in the scene where he found Nancy’s battered corpse.

• Sophie Okonedo (as Nancy) and Julian Rhind-Tutt as the villainous ‘Mr Monks’ were also great, Edward Fox pulled that upper-class expression of suppressed anger throughout as the paternal Mr Brownlow and Morven Christie as Rose provided the sensitive human side to the tale.

• But the social commentary of Dickens was also apparent such as the needless avarice of Monks, who stood to inherit half of his grandfather Mr Brownlow’s fortune even if Oliver had claimed his half, against the necessity of Fagin and his street urchins, and to a lesser degree Bill Sikes.

• Their subsequent fates also were a damning reflection on the absurdity of the courts of the time. For plotting the murder of Oliver, Monks was simply exiled by Mr Brownlow with no interference from the Peelers, Fagin on the other hand was hanged by Mr Fang (Rob Brydon) in a scene that also illustrated the anti-Semitism of the era as Fang would have spared Fagin had he renounced his Jewish faith in favour of Christianity.

• The comic relief of Mr Bumble (Gregor Fisher) and Mrs Corney (Sarah Lancashire). But their best scene was the bit where Monks was trying to extort the letter proving Oliver’s parentage from Mrs Corney, and no matter how hard Monks fixed his cane about Bumble’s throat she refused to sell it for any less than “40 guineas”.

• The eerie music that thankfully eschewed the drab traditional overwrought orchestral miasma of the Dickensian age and plumped for slinking nocturnes that crept under the skin, perfectly in harmony with the action on screen.

What was bad about it?

• The opening scenes at the orphanage were a little tiresome and too choreographed as it appeared that the muck and grime on the faces of the boys was arranged by a make-up artist rather than natural.

• The first place Oliver was sold too was meant for a comedic interlude but was simply irritating as John Sessions walked about with arrogance lazily playing a game of charades on his features, while it contained dialogue such as “Are you scared, Oliver?” “No” “You should be!” Words more suited to a stilted teen horror flick than a production of one of the greatest novelists.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

18/12/2007

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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