Oliver Twist (John Howard Davies) is born in a workhouse under the cruel management of Mr Bumble (Francis L. Sullivan), a sort of Victorian Mike Ashley. When Oliver runs away he falls in with a bad crowd of young ragamuffins, but there’s a twist (pun intended, presumably) when he discovers some unexpected good fortune in his family tree.
This is David Lean’s second Dickens adaptation after 1946’s Great Expectations. The two stories bear many similarities: a hard-done by orphan who moves to London and comes by unexpected good fortune, and also a reliance plot convenience.
As with Great Expectations Lean sets the scene superbly, building an atmosphere and representation of Victorian London to rival The Elephant Man. And like The Elephant Man, it features a main character who’s treated as a curiosity as he’s passed between the care of various people who don’t have his best interests at heart.
It features excellent performances, in particular from Davies and Alec Guinness as Uncle Fagin, in spite of the controversial make-up job. Add in Lean’s continuation of the rule of never having a crowd of ten when you can have 200 and you get a film which will definitely leave you wanting more.
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