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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Oliver Twist hits the mark

As far as Oliver Twist is concerned, I am a hard nut to crack. As a child I was bowled over by the Lionel Bart musical, film version, and bought the book and the record. I still love that film, and when I saw Roman Polanski's version a couple of years ago, it just didn't compare.

So it was with sore misgivings that I started watching the BBC's new adaptation, being broadcast for four days this week. But what a treat! I am even starting to think my perceptions of the film are very overrated as the character development was minimal.

In the BBC version, the characters are all richly drawn. Even Oliver, who has always appeared too wimpy and submissive for my liking. He behaves like you would expect a child incacerated in a workhouse, beaten and starved, to behave. He is feisty but, confronted with the love that he desperately craves, trusting and open.

I'm looking at Mr Brownlow in a new way too. In the film he comes over as a nice enough old cove, happy to take in a rugamuffin. In this version, he is anguished and sad, and we learn why.

I'm also seeing Fagin in a new light thanks to Timothy Spall's sensitive portrayal. In the film he's all avarice and picking pockets (or two). In this version, we wonder about his background, his heritage.

All in all, it's a magnificant version and I'm really enjoying it. The only character to me who seems weak is Bill Sikes, but I probably am a bit biased in that to me, the Oliver Reed version will be hard to beat. He had much more menace and charisma.

Another treat, The Old Curiosity Shop, awaits us next week; and there's also a re-run of David Copperfield, starring Daniel Radcliffe before he was Harry Potter, on one of the satellite channels. This is all good news for those of us who like Dickens and loathe Jane Austen! Let us hope the fashion for Pride and Prejudice and all those other twee, arch dramas has now passed, and maybe we will see more from Dickens, George Eliot and, heaven forbid, Thomas Hardy.

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