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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Comedy > British TV > Mini-Series > Oliver Twist (1999/British TV/WGBH DVD)

Oliver Twist (1999/British Telefilm)


Picture: C+     Sound: B-     Extras: C-     Mini-Series: B



In Charles Dickens’ classic, young Oliver Twist is a child who does not want to be held back and is constantly punished for it.  Like Tom Brown’s Schooldays, the issue of abuse is treated with disturbing ambiguity, too often siding with humor instead of the darker reality of such abuse.  Yet, this dangerous stereotype endures and though taking a moral stand would not make too much of a difference, almost celebrating it is another issue.  How many times Oliver Twist can be made and remade over and over is almost sad, and the idea of the abuse not being “that bad” or accepted as a sort of celebrated ugliness could be one of the unspoken reasons.  At least the 1999 British Mini-Series version has a prequel of the life his parents led and how he came to be in his circumstances.


Like Annie, the false hope that the poor lead child is a chosen one connected to wealth is more than a dream, it could be considered an ugly form of psychological child abuse that tells children to have naïve optimism and hope for money, love and happiness in an instant.  There is more hatred of children in this society than ever, demonstrated by the decline of real innocence (not Hollywood’s manufactured version) in a world where children are allowed to sell drugs to each other and common violence in general is accepted.  There was even the 1968 Musical Best Picture Oscar winner Oliver!, which Hollywood honored over Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, showing how out of touch they were with film art and how blindly they intended to cling to a declining genre.  At least Ron Moody was good.


Despite some good songs by Lionel Bart, it is the same thing all over again once the interesting first installment is finished.  That the story suddenly gets into caricature territory is a shame, including Sam Smith as Oliver and a good cast that includes Julie Walters, Michael Kitchen, and even Keira Knightley.  The wining is on target, like the overly loud “talk at” singing that has marked Annie since its debut.  It is a shtick that wears thin quickly and is less adventurous than the beginning of this series.  This was made with WGBH for their Masterpiece Theater series and has enough highlights and differences to still distinguish itself from so many other productions.  By default, that makes it the preferred version on DVD.


The 1.78 X 1 image is letterboxed, but not anamorphically enhanced.  Despite this, it looks good and the darker color schemes likely help.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo has enough Pro Logic surrounds to sound modern and the series was a Dolby production.  Extras are few, including weblinks, video descriptive services and a DVD-ROM section to print up educational materials.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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