Oliver Twist (1999/British Telefilm)
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