Directed by Roman Polanski, starring Ben Kingsley, Barney Clark, Jamie Foreman, Harry Eden, Leanne Rowe, Lewis Chase, Edward Hardwicke, Jeremy Swift, Michael Heath and Mark Strong.
Some things just linger. Even though it has been 37 years since 'Oliver!' the musical, and over 160 years since the original novel, the haunting plea for more food by the young orphan boy still resonates. Roman Polanski treats the Dickens original as a shrine, preserving the detail and capturing the essence of the tough times of 19th Century London.
Young Oliver Twist (Clark) is an orphan, brought up in a workhouse. After drawing the short straw, he's chosen to ask for more gruel on behalf of all the starving children. For this he is regarded as a troublemaker by the workhouse beadle, Mr Bumble (Swift), and so is offered as an apprentice to anyone who'll have him.
Oliver runs away to London after being beaten by his new employer, the undertaker. After trekking the 70 miles to the city, he's weak and fatigued. The Artful Dodger (Eden) befriends Oliver and, recognising his naïveté, brings him back to Fagin (Kingsley), who trains his boys to be pickpockets.
One morning, Oliver goes out with the Artful Dodger and another scoundrel to observe them pickpocket. Oliver is caught and blamed for robbing Mr Brownlow (Hardwicke), but later in court a witness insists that Oliver was innocent. Mr Brownlow recognises Oliver's ill health and brings him home. He and his housekeeper nurse him back to health because Brownlow is convinced that he's an honest child.
But the menacing Bill Sykes (Foreman), who fears that his own and Fagin's dodgy dealings will be found out, kidnaps Oliver. Later, Bill and Toby (Strong) bring Oliver back to Mr Brownlow's to rob the house but Oliver is shot when they are caught in the act.
From then on, Sykes is consumed by the idea of getting rid of Oliver and will do anything to see his end - even murdering his own girlfriend Nancy (Rowe) when she tries to warn Mr Brownlow of Oliver's imminent danger.
In the tug of war between a good life with Mr Brownlow and a life of bare survival under Fagin's wing, Oliver eventually sees a happy ending, which is brushed with sadness at the hanging of Fagin.
Polanski tackled Dickens only after a lifetime of film feats and he did so with competence and confidence. The result is a tribute to both his direction and Dickens' classic. Polanski ensured that the relationships were delved into, remaining true to the detail of Dickens' work.
This is a remake of a story that's too well known to mess with. It's obvious that Polanski did his research, giving the story the historical depth it deserves, with the setting and costumes looking as if they were relics from the time. The calibre of the cast and their relationships are enthralling to watch.
Barney Clark, playing Oliver, draws you in and leaves you rooting for him throughout. And while Jamie Foreman, who plays Bill Sykes, exhibits nothing but hate and evil - unrelentingly ominous - the humour and relationship Fagin has with the boys softens his villainy. Kingsley, playing Fagin, captures almost a paternal role at times amidst all the evil, giving meaning and credibility to Oliver's ultimate honest and poignant thanks and goodbye to a Fagin losing his mind in Newgate prison.
This film will rekindle an old love for Dickens among the older audience and will be a mesmerising tale for the younger ones.