Leave the cannoli, take the movies

Review Blog

Oliver Twist

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on August 21, 2012 at 10:45 PM


David Lean


IDEA:  Oliver Twist, raised in an abusive orphanage and subjected to cruelty by the home he's sold to, escapes to London where he falls in with a gang of pickpockets.

BLURB:  Between the two Dickens adaptations David Lean made back to back in the late 40s (the other being Great Expectations), Oliver Twist is far and away the champion. Though the story is abundantly well known, Lean’s direction and Guy Green’s downright astonishing cinematography transform it into a wholly consummate vision, amplifying its archetypes against gothic expressionist backdrops that positively soak in shadowy grandeur. This is one of those enthralling cases in which every element you’re seeing on screen, from the lighting, to the camera angles, to the sets, to the props, to the actors themselves, feel as though they’re under complete control from an artist with a master plan. Aesthetically, it is calibrated to perfection. The acting is just as good: Alec Guinness is a miraculous concoction of mucky wiliness and sly sadism as Fagin, while John Howard Davies, with his undernourished face and soft tottering walk, crafts an Oliver whose heartbreaking realism is only matched by his own winsomeness. Narrative-wise it may not be flawless, but in terms of visual bravado, atmosphere and feeling, Lean’s version is a classic literary retelling worthy of the word “definitive.”

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