Oliver Twist (review)

Poor old Oliver Twist — his nearly two-hundred-year-old misery never fails to be relevant, and so he’s doomed to be resurrected every decade or so for the edification of a new generation. This elegant British production — which aired in the U.S. on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater and here is packaged with that series’ introductions — distinguishes itself with a lengthy new prologue. Fully occupying the first of three two-hour episodes, the story of Oliver’s origins, only briefly sketched by Dickens at the end of the novel, here opens up a familiar tale and deepens it, illuminating some confusing aspects of the story as told by Dickens. Why is Oliver in such constant danger through his young life? What is the source of the mysterious fortune he comes into at his happy ending? The cast is an Anglophile’s dream — Robert Lindsay, Julie Walters, Alun Armstrong, Michael Kitchen, Andy Serkis, Keira Knightley, with wide-eyed newcomer Sam Smith as Oliver — and they plumb surprising depths of humor and irony in a retelling that, delightfully, remains true to Oliver’s decency, and how it will out despite the best efforts of the rogues and scoundrels that surround him.

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