‘Oliver Twist’ (1985) (TV)

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Please feel free to comment on my review.

‘Oliver Twist’ by Terrance Dicks

This is the 1985 BBC TV adaptation of ‘Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens. This is a 12 episode epic that I’ve immensely enjoyed. It was dramatised by Alexander Baron, it was produced by Terrance Dicks (former script editor of ‘Doctor Who’ for the Jon Pertwee era) and it was directed by Gareth Davies.

For me, ‘Oliver Twist’ is a story that I’m very familiar with. I learnt and studied the story since the days of primary school, having seen many versions of ‘Oliver Twist’ in TV and film form over the years. This includes the unashamedly musical film adaptation called ‘Oliver!’ which was made back in 1968. The BBC version of ‘Oliver Twist’ in ‘The Charles Dickens Collection’ DVD box-set is the best version for me!

I was surprised that this BBC TV adaptation of ‘Oliver Twist’ was a 12-part episode story. I wondered how they could fit in a story like ‘Oliver Twist’ by fleshing it out into 12 episodes. It seemed unlikely as I’ve been spoilt from watching the film versions of ‘Oliver Twist’ shown on TV and at the cinemas.

It was interesting to discover that there was more to the story of ‘Oliver Twist’ than I’d originally first thought. It seems that this BBC TV adaptation of the classic book by Charles Dickens is one that follows more closely to the book than any other version. This pleased me and it gives the story a richer feel.

It did make me wonder why the other film adaptations of ‘Oliver Twist’ had left out so much from the book to be incorporated into them. There were also a lot more differences in the characters for the 1985 TV version of ‘Oliver Twist’ compared to the film versions. This made it realistic and more gritty.

The highlight of this version of ‘Oliver Twist’ is that it was produced by Terrance Dicks. I felt in safe hands with the story produced by Terrance as he was the script-editor of ‘Doctor Who’ for the 1970s and had written many ‘Doctor Who’ novels. He seems to care about the story in this TV production.

It was interesting to have Terrance Dicks be the producer of a classic TV drama serial compared to being a script editor. Of course Terrance and producer Barry Letts worked a lot in the classic drama department after ‘Doctor Who’. It was refreshing to have Terrance Dicks as producer on this.

As I’m sure you know, ‘Oliver Twist’ is the story about a young pauper boy who struggles in the workhouse at a very young age in the 1800s. Very soon, Oliver finds himself in the streets of London and gets caught up in the thieving pranks of Fagan and his gang. But Oliver is set for higher things!

I liked that this wasn’t just a story about a boy in the workhouse who said, “Please sir, I want some more!” and you know the rest. There was a lot more to this story since another character gets added into the mix as well as Fagin, Bill Sykes and Nancy who threaten Oliver’s existence in society.

That character is Monks, a mysterious man who appears in the story and seems interested in Oliver Twist for some strange reason. It was interesting to watch Monks, since we as the audience don’t know whether he’s good or bad. Later on in the story, he shows traits that aren’t entirely favourable.

From watching the story, it does seem like the second half was rather padded out and the whole Monks story arc was added to flesh out the story. But it was part of the original book by Charles Dickens. It helps to make sense of the story, which is something that the film adaptations never did.

The star of the show is Ben Rodska as Oliver. I enjoyed Ben’s performance as Oliver. He deliver an honest interpretation of the boy. It was interesting to see how Oliver copes journeying from the country to London and how he mixes in with Fagin’s lot before finding the company of good people.

As well as Ben Rodska, there’s also Scott Funnell who plays a young Oliver Twist when he’s working at the workhouse. I found it sweet when young Oliver asked for some more during mealtime and when he pleaded not to go with a chimney sweep man as his apprentice, which angers Mr. Bumble.

Eric Porter stars as Fagin in this version of ‘Oliver Twist’. I like Eric Porter’s performance as Fagin, since he looks very convincing in his hair and make-up for the story. He also comes across as more convincing as a character compared to the other versions. He seems pretty crafty and manipulative.

Michael Attwell stars as Bill Sykes in this version of ‘Oliver Twist’. I’ve seen Michael Attwell before since he appeared in the ‘Doctor Who’ story ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ with Colin Baker. His performance as Sykes is spot on and stupendous. He plays it superbly as the violent and angry rogue.

Amanda Harris stars as Nancy, the long-suffering wife of Bill Sykes. I like Amanda Harris as Nancy and I don’t know why, but she seems to have an air of Rose Tyler about her. Nancy is bitter and has a rough exterior in this version of ‘Oliver Twist’. But she still shows a soft side in protecting Oliver.

David Garlick stars as the Artful Dodger in this version of ‘Oliver Twist’. I enjoyed David Garlick’s version of the Artful Dodger. He’s not much of a friend to Oliver as he appeared to be in other film adaptations of ‘Oliver Twist’. The Artful Dodger is also cocky and good-humoured in this version.

Godfrey James stars as Mr. Bumble in this version of ‘Oliver Twist’. Godfrey James’ performance as Mr. Bumble in this TV version is stupendous. I also found how more was developed with Bumbles’ character, especially when he married Mrs. Corney and was in some dodgy dealings with Mr. Monks.

Miriam Margolyes stars as Mrs. Corney, the woman whom Bumble falls in love with and eventually marries. Mrs. Corney (later Mrs. Bumble) is a nasty woman who leads the maids at the workhouse. She steals a locket belonging to Oliver Twist’s mother. She also treats Mr. Bumble so badly once married.

Pip Donaghy stars as Monks, the mysterious man who is looking for Oliver Twist. It was interesting to see what Monks does, especially as he enters into dodgy deals with Fagin. Sometimes he’s calm and cool-talking, but at other times he goes into fits of rage and sounds like Gollum when he goes mad.

Lysette Anthony stars as Rose Maylie, a young woman who takes kindly to Oliver when he turns up at the Maylies’ house. I found it interesting and enjoyable how Oliver forms a good brotherly-sisterly relationship with Rose. It was tense when Rose contracts a fever and it seemed like she might die.

Dominic Jephcott stars as Harry Maylie. Harry is another interesting character that I knew little about from other versions of ‘Oliver Twist’. There’s a romance between Rose and Harry, but the mother won’t allow the marriage as Rose is illegitimate. Harry forms a good friendship with Oliver in this tale.

Frank Middlemass stars as Mr. Brownlow, the kind man whom Oliver meets after he gets mistakenly accused for stealing some of his books. I liked it when Mr. Brownlow doesn’t lose faith in Oliver when reuniting with him for a second time and he’s determined to solve the mystery of Oliver’s identity.

The cast also includes Gillian Martell as Mrs. Maylie, David King as Giles and Edward Burnham (who I’ve seen in ‘Doctor Who’) as Mr. Grimwig. There’s Julian Firth (who I’ve seen in ‘Jeeves & Wooster’) as Noah Claypole; Terry Molloy (Davros in ‘Doctor Who’) as Brittles and Christian Rodska as Barney.

The 1985 BBC version of ‘Oliver Twist’ is a wonderful TV adaptation that’s faithful to the original book. It’s one I prefer as it’s a 12-part epic and great to have Terrance Dicks as producer of this classic drama serial. It makes a nice ‘Doctor Who’ connection for me and it’s a version of ‘Oliver Twist’ you really need to check out!

‘Oliver Twist’ (1985) rating – 10/10

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