Roman Polanksi's adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel.
If Charles Dickens were alive to see Roman Polanski's faithful adaptation ofOliver Twist
, he'd probably give it his stamp of approval. David Lean's celebrated1948 version
of the Dickens classic and Carol Reed'sOscar®-winning 1968 musical
are more entertaining in some ways, but Polanski's rendition is both painstakingly authentic (with superb cinematography and production design) and deeply rooted in the emotional context of the story. Both Polanski and Dickens had personal experiences similar to those of young Oliver (played here by Barney Clark) -- Polanski in the Nazi-occupied ghettos of Poland during World War II, and Dickens during his hard-scrabble youth in Victorian London -- and this spiritual kinship lends a certaingravitas
to the tale of a tenacious orphan who escaped from indentured servitude in London society and is taken in by Fagin (Ben Kingsley) and his streetwise gang of pickpockets. As the evil Bill Sykes, who exploits Oliver for his own nefarious needs, Jamie Foreman is no match for Oliver Reed (in the '68 musical) in terms of frightening menace, but even here, Polanski's direction hews closer to Dickens, while the screenplay by Ronald Harwood (who also wrote Polanski'sThe Pianist
) necessarily trims away subplots and characters for the sake of narrative economy. All in all, thisOliver Twist
rises above most previous versions, and with the benefit of Kingsley's nuanced performance, Polanski arrives at a compassionate conclusion that captures the essence of Dickens' novel in a way that viewers of all ages will appreciate for many years to come.--Jeff Shannon