‘Oliver Twist’ (1997) (TV)


Please feel free to comment on my review.

Frodo Baggins As The Artful Dodger

They didn’t have ‘oliver twist’ in the opening credits with BIG CAPITAL LETTERS! 😀

Over the years, I’ve seen various film and TV adaptations of classic works by various authors. ‘Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens is no exception. The one that I consider to be most faithful to the original book is the BBC 1985 TV production produced by Terrance Dicks, former ‘Doctor Who’ script editor.

With that version, there was more story to it compared to other film and TV productions I’ve seen. Film versions like the 1968 musical film ‘Oliver!’ and the 2005 film directed by Roman Polanski only tell half the story. And the same can be said for the 1997 TV movie produced by Disney! Yes! Disney!

It’s ironic to see this film version of ‘Oliver Twist’ from the world of Disney. Or should I say ‘The Wonderful World of Disney’? Yeah, this was released as part of an anthology series on TV called ‘The Wonderful World of Disney’. They’d show various films whether it’s original films or repeats of films.

The 1997 ‘Oliver Twist’ was directed by Tony Bill, from a teleplay by Monte Merrick. As I said, this TV film version of ‘Oliver Twist’ like other film adaptations tells only half the story. In the 1985 BBC version, there was this half-brother Oliver had called Monks. This Disney film doesn’t feature Monks.

Now to be fair, I did see the 1997 ‘Oliver Twist’ first before I saw the 1985 BBC version. At the time I watched the 1997 TV film and the 2005 film at cinemas, I considered them to be faithful adaptations. It’s only looking back in hindsight how those film versions differ to the 1985 TV version.

Also, the Disney 1997 TV film feels tamer and more child-friendly compared to other versions which were grittier. That includes both 1985 and 2005 versions. Again, its Disney we’re talking about here, so what do you expect? But there are issues in terms of how they tell ‘Oliver Twist’ as a story for TV.

Just to remind you as to what the story is, ‘Oliver Twist’ is about a young orphan boy who grew up in a workhouse where he dared to ask for more before he escaped to London. There he meets Fagin and the Artful Dodger. They take him in to train in the ways of being a criminal and thieve in London.

Very soon, Oliver gets caught for a crime he didn’t commit. He’s soon meant for higher things when he meets this family who may be closely connected to him than he anticipated. Before long, Oliver is forced to work against his will for the nasty Bill Sykes to steal from the rich family that cared for him.

I’ve read from other reviews that people rate this film badly and say it’s the worst adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel. Now, I can’t be that harsh on it. It’s not a great film adaptation. I already established it covers half the story. But it’s harmless enough and isn’t doing anything terribly wrong.

It’s just I’ve been spoiled by the 1985 TV version produced by Terrance Dicks nowadays. I know that other film adaptations of ‘Oliver Twist’ don’t do it justice like the BBC version did. Also the 1997 ‘Oliver Twist’ seems to be reliant on a film adaptation that everyone regards pretty highly nowadays.

That is of course, the 1968 ‘Oliver!’ musical film. Every other film adaptation I’ve seen follows the same pattern that was in the ‘Oliver!’ film. Do everything except the Monks storyline. I don’t know if that’s because the filmmakers found the Monks plot too dark and complicated to follow throughout.

Either way, things get simplified as a result of that. It’s what I seem to be getting from this particular Disney TV film version of the story as well as the other adaptations. Thankfully we don’t have our characters bursting into song like they did in the ‘Oliver!’ film. I honestly find that very embarrassing.

On a side note, I do like it when they have songs sung in the background like ‘In The Mid Bleak Winter’ and ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ to place a Christian emphasis in the film. Though saying that, was the film set during Christmas time when ‘In The Mid Bleak Winter’ was sung by that choir?

Another example of where the 1997 Disney film is reliant on the ‘Oliver!’ film is how Nancy gets murdered by Sykes. As in the ‘Oliver!’ film, she gets murdered at London Bridge. Both the book and the 1985 TV serial didn’t do that as Sykes murdered her in the bedroom. This is far more convincing.

There are also other characters clearly established in other adaptations that don’t get seen much in the Disney film. Mr. Bumble is not the Disney film. His role gets taken by the Widow Corney who mistreats Oliver in this. In the book and BBC TV version, Mr. Bumble and Corney married each other.

There’s also this plot thread where Oliver goes to London not to seek his fortune but to find his true identity as he has his mother’s locket with him. The mother’s locket thing becomes a significant plot device in the Disney TV film. This wasn’t something featured in the original book or the BBC version.

Also, there isn’t a sequence where Oliver gets to become an apprentice for an undertaker until he gets disgraced before he flees to London. That get cuts out (it probably would’ve slowed things down) as Oliver gets thrown out by Corney, recovers his mother’s locket at night before running to London.

The film’s cast is led by Richard Dreyfuss as Fagin, who is also a co-producer of this film. To be fair, Richard Dreyfuss is very good as Fagin. Even though he’s an American actor, I found him convincing as Fagin. This also must be the first time that I’ve seen Richard Dreyfuss in a TV movie such as this. 🙂

The other thing I’ve come across Richard Dreyfuss in something is when he voiced Mr. Centipede in ‘James and the Giant Peach’ as well as voicing for ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys’. 😀 In the film version, Fagin is friendlier to Oliver Twist compared to other film versions.

The film also features…ELIJAH WOOD AS THE ARTFUL DODGER?!! Yeah! This is Elijah Wood before he became Frodo Baggins in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ film trilogy. I was amazed to find him appearing as the Artful Dodger in this film. This must be why my Dad purchased the film on DVD as Elijah Wood’s in it. 😀

I must admit I was a little sceptical about Elijah Wood being in this movie after seeing him in ‘LOTR’. I thought he was a bit too old to play the Artful Dodger. Sometimes his American accent came through his British accent. But he was enjoyable to watch and seemed to be a friend to Oliver in this.

Alex Trench stars as Oliver Twist in the film. Now from what I’ve read on IMDb, this was the only thing Alex Trench did in his acting career. Wow! He only did ‘Oliver Twist’. He was even nominated for Best Performance in a TV Movie/Pilot/Mini Series for a Young Actor Age Ten or Under. Superb!

With that said, I don’t think this interpretation of Oliver Twist is very good. Don’t get me wrong, Alex Trench is decent enough. But it seems to me Oliver in this film was generically happy all the time. He didn’t seem to have the struggles of life like other Oliver Twists I’ve seen in other films adaptations.

The film also features David O’Hara as Bill Sykes. This Bill Sykes is a bit peculiar. That’s not to say David O’Hara is awful. On the contrary, I felt intimidated by him when he got angry and violent. But the issue I have with is that there wasn’t depth to his character. Sometimes he comes across as bland.

In other film and TV adaptations I’ve seen including the BBC one, Bill Sykes was balanced with quiet menace and cunning as well as having a nasty temper. In this version, there aren’t very many quiet moments and Sykes is often seen as a big bully. It did make me wonder what Nancy saw in Bill Sykes.

Speaking of which, Antoine Byrne stars as Nancy. Now like in other film adaptations except the BBC one, Nancy comes across as rather motherly towards Oliver. After having the BBC version, I doubt the Disney TV film version of Nancy is authentic to the original novel even as she helps Oliver in this.

The film also has Olivia Caffrey as Rose Maylie and Anthony Finigian as Mr. Brownlow who become Oliver’s adoptive family later on. Their connections to Oliver are different in the 1997 TV film compared to the book. Rose happens to be Oliver’s cousin whilst Mr. Brownlow happens to be his grandfather.

That’s not the case in both book and BBC version since Rose Maylie was actually Oliver’s maternal aunt and as far as I’m concerned Mr. Brownlow didn’t have any family connections to Oliver apart from adopting him at the end. There’s also Maria Charles as the Widow Corney for this 1997 TV film.

The film concludes with Sykes getting hanged after escaping police and after murdering Nancy. Fagin is also still alive and not thrown away into prison like he usually does in other film and TV adaptations. The Artful Dodger also gets taken and is thrown in jail while Oliver has his happy family.

There aren’t any DVD special features provided for the 1997 ‘Oliver Twist’ film. This is a shame. It would’ve been nice to have seen some behind-the-scenes extras into the making of the film. I would like to hear Elijah Wood’s thoughts on what he made of the movie and how he played Artful Dodger.

The 1997 ‘Oliver Twist’ film is…pretty decent and enjoyable. In no way is it a great film adaptation of the original Charles Dickens novel compared to the 1985 BBC TV version. But I have a soft spot for this Disney TV film as it is fun to watch with Elijah Wood playing the Artful Dodger and other things.

I don’t know how well-remembered this film will be in years to come. It has been interesting to see various film adaptations and how they compare to each other as well as to the original book. The 1997 Disney film is tamer than most, but it’s pleasant enough. I don’t mind watching this again soon. 🙂

‘Oliver Twist’ (1997) rating – 7/10

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