Film Reviews


By • Sep 30th, 2005 •

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TriStar Pictures
MPAA rating PG-13 / Running time — 132 minutes

QUOTE: Okay, I get it. Polanski doesn’t want us to forget his childhood.

According to, there have been over fifteen TV and movie versions of Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist.” Why make another version? Were the period costumes and sets available? Well, that is always my jaded version; however, Polanski’s adaptation benefits from his old man’s bitter view of life and the cruel memories of his childhood. It is finally a perfect match! This is a stunning interpretation, perhaps not needed but highly compelling. (One could argue that Sir David Lean never had a day without a meal.)

Polanski’s childhood has already achieved mythic proportions. As a boy in World War II Poland, Polanski lost his parents to concentration camps. He was left alone to wander the countryside (like Oliver) and had to hide with Catholic families from the Nazis. As you know, Oliver is rescued by a kindly old man who sees the goodness in him.

I read Polanski’s autobiography, “Roman by Polanski.” I know his side of things. I also enjoyed the more revealing Polanski interview in Premiere magazine a few years ago. Interviewed about THE PIANIST, Polanski was cranky. Interviews are beneath him and he seemed annoyed to be answering any questions at all. Why bother courting some no-name U.S. movie magazine? Who reads Premiere magazine anyhow? It’s tough when an artist has to whore himself so the unwashed will buy movie tickets!

Polanski’s terrible childhood must still be haunting him. Gee, Roman, you’re 90 years old. Get some therapy already! Polanski wants us to remember that even though he fled the U.S. after being convicted of the statutory rape of a 13-year old girl, he had a good reason. Blame it on the Nazis.

If, as has been widely quoted, Polanski wanted to make a movie for his children, he sure picked a grim one.

Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) is an orphan living in 19th century England. The only people in England are wizened, ugly people. Where did Polanski find all these monsters? I didn’t know people lived so long in the 19th century. Twist delivers his famous plea – “Please, sir, I want more” – and is thrown out of his orphanage. After fighting with another boy where he is apprenticed, Oliver walks 70 miles to London. There, he meets the Artful Dodger (Harry Eden) who takes him to Fagin (Ben Kingsley, doing much better here even under grotesque makeup, than he did in A SOUND OF THUNDER.) I saw a petition on the Internet after the release of A SOUND OF THUNDER demanding Kingsley’s peerage be rescinded by Queen Elizabeth.

Fagin has trained and “nurtured” a group of boys to be pick-pockets. He takes a serious liking to the angelic Oliver. Fagin’s associate, Bill Sykes (Jamie Foreman), is a degenerate so horrible he makes Fagin look like a kindly grandpa handing out treats.

The film is Polanski’s obvious venue for exploiting his constant fury at the world. Lifelong artistic glory, notorious fame, money, a beautiful French actress wife, two young children, lawsuit victory over Vanity Fair magazine, an Academy Award, and powerful friends: but the public doesn’t admire him! Polanski stopped being a victim when he achieved the impossible and made his first film. Seeing his version of Oliver Twist, I could hardly believe anyone thought this material would make a good musical.

Polanski had to film the redemption of Fagin and Oliver’s salvation, but I left the theater knowing full well that Polanski’s Oliver will grow up never forgiving or forgetting.

Polanski once again chose his THE PIANIST screenwriter, Ronald Harwood, to adapt Dicken’s novel. Harwood, 70, understands Polanski’s bitter world view. The sets, by Allan Starski, were built in the Czech Republic’s Barrandov Studios. They are picturesque and painterly but lack the stench and filth at the film’s core.

Fagin: Ben Kingsley
Oliver: Barney Clark
Bill Sykes: Jamie Foreman
Artful Dodger: Harry Eden
Nancy: Leanne Rowe
Charlie: Lewis Chase
Mr Brownlow: Edward Hardwicke
Mr. Bumble: Jeremy Swift
Toby: Mark Strong

Director: Roman Polanski
Screenwriter: Ronald Harwood
Based on the novel by: Charles Dickens
Producers: Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde, Roman Polanski
Director of photography: Pawel Edelman
Production designer: Allan Starski
Music: Rachel Portman
Costumes: Anna B. Sheppard
Editor: Herve de Luze

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