Shot in Ireland, this revisionist version of the Dickens classic was produced for television by the Disney organization. The film was released on home video in 1998.
In 1825 a nameless vagrant woman dies after giving birth to a baby whom the county orphanage arbitrarily names Oliver Twist. Oliver grows up in the workhouse, fixated on a locket his mother possessed. When adolescent Oliver (Alex Trench) is expelled for daring to ask for more food, he sets out for
London and the Grosvenor Square address engraved on the locket.
In the city, Oliver is befriended by Jack "Dodger" Hawkins (Elijah Wood), a young pickpocket who introduces Oliver to Fagin (Richard Dreyfuss), an ingratiating lowlife who gives shelter and fellowship to runaway boys, putting them to work as sneak thieves. Dodger accompanies Oliver on a
pocket-picking expedition, but the would-be victim sounds an alarm, and Oliver is captured. The noble Rose Maylie (Olivia Caffrey) testifies that Dodger was the culprit and charitably takes Oliver to the Grosvenor Square mansion of her uncle, Mr. Brownlow (Anthony Finnegan). Oliver realizes he is
Brownlow's grandson, by a daughter who fled after becoming pregnant with a married lover's child. Only the locket can prove his heritage, and it's in Fagin's treasure horde. Fagin himself wants Oliver back for fear he'll inform police of his criminal outfit, and Fagin's adult associate Bill Sikes
(David O'Hara) has no objection to killing Oliver to ensure silence. Pretending to rejoin the gang, Oliver carefully plays Sikes's greed against Fagin's fear of a murder charge to survive long enough to get the locket. It's Dodger who unwittingly brings down the law when he helps contact Rose
Maylie over the danger Oliver is in. Sikes apparently kills Fagin, then accidentally hangs himself trying to escape a lynch mob. Before being reunited with the Brownlow household, Oliver gets a final affectionate farewell from rascally Fagin, who survived after all.
Leaving aside the Disney cartoon bowdlerization OLIVER & COMPANY (1988), one might say the old-style Disney treatment of Oliver Twist already arrived in a non-Disney production, Carol Reed's OLIVER! (1968), with its colorful production, spirited songs, and Ron Moody's sugar-coated Fagin (the
latter element being a whimsical undermining of Dickens's original depiction of the character, done full justice by Alec Guiness in David Lean's classic 1948 version). What was left for this TV version? Dickens purists will cringe at the rewrites; missing, along with most of the novel's rich
dialogue, is Oliver's innate innocence. The literary hero would never dream of dishonesty, but this Oliver is a kid crafty enough to pit his enemies against each other.
The film could have been compelling for viewers who are new to the story, but Tony Bill's rather prosaic direction and the small-scale sets fight against sustaining viewer interest. Newcomer 10-year-old Alex Trench is fine in the lead role, as is Elijah Wood as Dodger. As Fagin, Richard Dreyfuss
(who also co-produced) gives in to his hammy tendencies. His character has also been toned down--Dreyfuss's Fagin is even more kid-friendly than was Moody's. This was done, presumably, in an effort to combat charges that the character is an anti-Semitic stereotype; by softening Fagin's behavior,
however, an essential component of Oliver's struggle to survive is sacrificed. (Violence.)
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- Released: 1998
- Rating: NR
- Review: Shot in Ireland, this revisionist version of the Dickens classic was produced for television by the Disney organization. The film was released on home video in 1998. In 1825 a nameless vagrant woman dies after giving birth to a baby whom the county orphan… (more)