Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist

Starring Robert Newton, Alec Guinness, John Howard Davies. (U)


There are numerous versions of Dickens’s classic tale – including an animated one from 1974 with the Monkees’ Davy Jones doing the voice of the Artful Dodger – but nothing beats director David Lean’s (Lawrence of Arabia) black and white adventure from 1948. Oliver (Davies) is the orphaned boy in Victorian England who runs away from a workhouse and falls in with a gang of London pickpockets, including the Artful Dodger (Anthony Newley), who are under the supervision of nasty Fagin (Guinness).

On its original release, the film was accused of anti-Semitism owing to Guinness’s harsh portrayal of Fagin (and, if nothing else, it will give younger viewers nightmares) and briefly banned in the US, but the actor gives a mesmerising performance that is well worth catching. It’s a dark film, though, and adults should note that some of the themes (there’s a murder, and the film opens with Oliver’s mother’s death) aren’t suitable for younger eyes. In 2005, Roman Polanski directed an adaptation of the Dickens story, with Ben Kingsley as Fagin, Jamie Foreman as Bill Sikes and Barney Clark as Oliver, which is enjoyable but not particularly memorable. 

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As mentioned in the review, the murder of a main character, Oliver’s mother’s death and the characters of Fagin and Sykes are all disturbing. This version of the Dickens’ tale isn’t suitable for under-8s despite its ‘U’ certificate.

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