March 27, 2006
After the critical and commercial success of The Pianist (2002), filmmaker Roman Polanski decided to do something completely different and make a children’s movie. This seems rather odd considering the adult fare that he’s usually known for (films like Bitter Moon and Death and the Maiden). It’s also a rather daunting task adapting one of the most famous pieces of literature, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, a tale set in 19th century London about an orphan boy (Clark) who gets involved with a gang of crafty pickpockets.
There are also numerous other cinematic adaptations that Polanski’s film will inevitably be compared to. The veteran director opts for a realistic take, portraying the 19th century as a harsh, grungy world, especially for these unfortunate orphans who are barely fed and worked mercilessly to the bone. We follow Oliver from the cruel environment of the orphanage to the mean streets of London.
The film is beautifully shot with the exteriors given a washed out, almost monochromatic palette while the interiors are bathed in a warm, golden light. Once Oliver escapes the oppressive confines of servitude in a drab, small village, he journeys through the English countryside and Polanski expands his colour palette to symbolize Oliver’s newfound freedom. Gorgeous shots of vast, vibrant green fields of grass show how much Oliver’s world has opened up since his escape and these feelings only increase once he arrives in the thriving city of London. The big city is a tough place with narrow, crowded streets teeming with the hustle and bustle of people.
Once Oliver arrives in London, he meets the Artful Dodger (Eden), a clever thief who takes the boy in and teaches him the tricks of the trade. Oliver soon meets the rest of the gang of pickpockets that the Dodger runs with and the mastermind behind them, Fagin (Kingsley), a wretched criminal who uses these young boys to steal from unsuspecting people. Ben Kingsley portrays Fagin as a hairy, disheveled, muttering monster of a man. However, his portrayal has layers. His Fagin isn’t merely a one dimensional stereotype but almost sympathetic at times.
The children actors are all excellent and very natural, devoid of that annoying habit of mugging for the camera. The rapport between the band of pickpockets is especially well done and very believable with Barney Clark as Oliver being the most notable stand-out. He becomes the latest in a long line of Polanski film protagonists who are outsiders from regular society. Clark is able to convey a sense of optimism that is tinged with sadness from a brief and brutal life. As bad as things get he never lets it consume him and he is exposed to occasional moments of kindness.
Polanski’s Oliver Twist (2005) is a decent film, not an exceptional one as it tends to cut a lot from the book, but it is well made nonetheless.
“Twist by Polanski.” After The Pianist, Polanski wanted to do a film for his children and loved the Dickens book. His wife suggested that he adapt it for the big screen and others agreed. The director drew upon his own experiences as an orphan during World War II in making this film.
“The Best of Twist” examines the look of the film, including set design, costumes and cinematography. It also features production sketches and footage of the sets being built on soundstages and a portion of central London built from the ground up in Prague. This featurette highlights some of the fantastic attention to period detail.
Finally, there is “Kidding with Oliver Twist” that takes a look at the talented children cast for the film, in particular Barney Clark who reads from his diary that he kept during the production. It provides a view of a big scale, international film from the perspective of this young boy.