Monday, December 05, 2005

Oliver Twist

Polanski’s take on the Dickens stalwart rescues Fagin and Sykes from the music hall and returns them to the dark, stinking slums where they belong. At certain points in this tight, captivating film the pair genuinely appear to have been raised up from the depths of hell. Ben Kingsley so perfectly inhabits Fagin that it takes more than a while to remember that this is the same man who played Gandhi. A true character actor, he exposes the paucity of the talent which “graces” our screens most of the time. Of course he has the memory of Alec Guinness to contend with but of all today’s actors, probably only Kingsley could do it justice. Jamie Foreman, meanwhile, as Sykes, looking as pug-faced as his pitbull companion, provides a modern but effective take on the part and the film’s strengths are all on show when at one point he and the dog roam the countryside looking like a phantom apparition.

The beginning scenes are a little ponderous but everything comes together as soon as Oliver hits the city. Victorian London is portrayed in shabby magnificence, seemingly populated entirely by overly aged adults and thin children. The only person apparently between the ages of 15 and 60 is Sykes. The rest of the cast have a great time, laying on the cockney thicker than the mud on the London streets. But what starts out as an enjoyable romp soon veers off into darkness as the criminal screw slowly turns on Oliver.

Interesting, slightly luvvie, interview with Kingsley here.