Oliver Twist (1985)

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Released 5-Oct-2006

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1985
Running Time 352:00 (Case: 331)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Gareth Davies
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Eric Porter
Lysette Antony
Michael Attwell
Pip Donaghy
Scott Funnell
David Garlick
Amanda Harris
Godfrey James
Dominic Jephcott
Miriam Margolyes
Gillian Martell
Ben Rodska
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI Box Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    It is hard to watch any version of Charles Dickens Oliver Twist wihout expecting the characters to break into song at any moment. For it is arguably the 1968 film Oliver! (based on the highly successful stage musical) that is the defining and most memorable version of the story. Even when watching this BBC produced 6 hour mini-series, I could not help but feel that every time the Artful Dodger put his thumbs into his waistcoat, he was about to launch into "Consider Yourself".

    The musical version did a cut and paste version of the story in order to cram it and a dozen songs into 2 hour's viewing. This mini series has no such problem and therefore Dickens purists will love how the story has been given room to move and characters who are mere shadows in the musical are fleshed out.

    Oliver Twist was written in 1838 and like most Dickens novels, was published as a serial. It is a book with a message, dealing with some of the social injustices of his time, particularly the hard treatment of the poor and the young. It was written against the background of the Poor Law of 1834 which replaced the unemployment benefits system with workhouses. The novel was an instant and abiding success.

    As the story begins a young boy is born in a workhouse to an unknown mother. She has come into the workhouse that night, given birth and passed away. Although she has no identification she bears a gold locket with a picture in it which is promptly taken by one of the nurses. Oliver grows up in the workhouse under the cruel stewardship of Mr Bumble (Godfrey James), a pompous ass who cheats his child workers on their food whilst living the high life himself. It is he who names the boy "Oliver Twist".

    After drawing the short straw, Oliver dares to ask for more food and is promptly offered for sale to anyone who wants to give him an apprenticeship. He is eventually apprenticed to an undertaker, Mr Sowerberry. Although Sowerberry treats him well, his wife and their employees are cruel to Oliver. He is goaded into a fight with the thoroughly nasty Noah Claypole (Julian Firth) and is forced to flee.

    Oliver travels to London where he meets the Artful Dodger, (David Garlick) a young thief who takes him to meet Fagin (Eric Porter). He is the mentor of a gang of young thieves which included the now mature (and very dangerous) Bill Sikes (Michael Attell) and his girlfriend Nancy (Amanda Harris).

    After observing the Artful Dodger commit a robbery, Oliver is mistakenly identified as the thief, captured and sent to a hearing. The subject of the theft, Mr Brownlow (Frank Middlemass) takes pity on the boy and lets him into his home. Before too long he is captured by Sikes and taken back to the den of thieves. After another unsuccessful criminal enterprise he is shot and taken in by the kind Mrs Maylie and family which includes the young Rose Maylie (Lysette Anthony). All seems well but exactly who is the dark and mysterious character Monks and why is he giving money to Fagin to destroy Oliver's reputation? Will Oliver be recaptured by Fagin, Sikes and his band of thieves? What is the significance of the locket?

    These questions and more can only be answered by watching the BBC series, as many of the above plot points are not a part of Oliver!.

    The series is divided into 12 episodes of roughly 30 minutes each and the drama, both within each episode and in the series as a whole is well paced. Those not familiar with the true Dickens story will perhaps be somewhat surprised by some of the characterisations. Both Fagin and Sikes are irredeemably bad but you can't help feeling that they are what society has made them. Although Sikes turns his hand to some house breaking, these are generally petty thieves eking out a meagre existence. In fact, after the initial times together and the kidnapping period, there is actually fairly little involvement between Oliver and the thieves. A large part of the mini-series is spent with the Maylie family, who don't make it into the musical.

    The production is an excellent rendering of the story. It is difficult to imagine anyone underplaying the role of Bumble and Godfrey James doesn't try to tread new ground. Viewers may be surprised, however, at the straight readings of both Fagin and Sikes who are, as said, portrayed almost as victims of society. The halfway house is represented by Nancy who can't bring herself to betray either of the men in her life despite the fact that she knows that Sikes will ultimately be the death of her. The young thieves are played closer to the musical. There are a few Olivers used in the show. The main actor, Ben Rodski. is appropriate to a role that doesn't really offer much to an actor other than to look pitiful and opressed. Oliver is basically a good kid to whom alternately good and bad things happen and the role does not call for anything very substantial. It is not a criticism of him to say that, as he doesn't really stand out amongst the cast.

    There is very little humour in this production. What laughs there are stem from the pomposity of Mr Bumble and his eventual wife, played with her usual charm by Miriam Margoyles. This is an Oliver Twist for those who want to immerse themselves in the story and enjoy some marvellous characters. It is a fine production and a worthy edition to the Dickens Collection.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Oliver Twist was originally telecast on the BBC over 2 months in 1985. It comes to DVD in a 1.33:1 transfer with a 4x3 aspect ratio, is in keeping with the original broadcast ratio.

    The picture quality for this production is something of a surprise. There is a marked improvement in this DVD over the 1980 television productions that also form part of the Dickens collection. The difference between those early transfers and this DVD is much easier to see than the difference between this film and some of the 1995 productions suggesting to me that there was a marked improvement in the quality of video cameras during this time.

    The source tape for this DVD is nice and clean. There is an understandable age to it and the brown and green colours dominate. The flesh tones are adequate and there are no problems with grain, noise or artefacts. It is certainly not a reference quality DVD but for a 20 year old TV show, it is quite acceptable.

    There are English subtitles for the Hearing Impaired which give a good account of the on screen action.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Oliver Twist comes to DVD with an English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 KB/s) audio track. The transfer is perfectly adequate for this production. The actors all speak clearly and the dialogue can always be heard. The only heavily accented voice is that of Fagin, however, the experienced stage actor playing the role still manages to make everything nice and clear. Audio sync is not an issue.

    The music, by Australian-born composer Dudley Simpson, is quite moving and memorable. As well as providing incidental music for over 100 episodes of Dr Who, Dudley Simpson was the creator of the original music for Blake's Seven. His themes carry some of the dread of this dangerous London.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are no extras.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This version of Oliver Twist is available in other regions as part of Dickens box sets. The versions are of this film are the same. Choose the Region 4.

Summary

    This version of Oliver Twist story is a deep and comprehensive telling backed by good production values and quality performances. It is an Oliver for the purist.

    The video and sound quality are excellent for a TV series of this era and general fading due to the passage of time is the worst complaint.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Friday, December 15, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo DV-SP300, using Component output
DisplayNEC PlasmaSync 42" MP4 1024 x 768. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJBL Simply Cinema SCS178 5.1

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