Friday, January 22, 2016

Period Drama Challenge - Oliver Twist (1997)


Written for the Period Drama Challenge hosted by Laurie over at Old-Fashioned Charm. ❤ 

Oliver Twist . . . The Disney Version
starring Richard Dreyfuss and Elijah Wood
1997, PG, 90 minutes

When I was a wee nipper my exposure to "period films" was limited to big production company releases that had been solidly Americanized and, how do you call it . . . abridged. But that's okay because I was just a kid myself. In 1997, I was only 13-years-old and I really didn't have all that much interest in period dramas that were hours and hours long. For one thing, I didn't have the patience for it. And for another, classics were boring. What can I say? I was 13.

I have since widened my classic literature and film horizons by leaps and bounds, mostly thanks to college courses with a strong focus on British lit. And although I have yet to actually read Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, I have watched many different film adaptations of the story that are far more comprehensive and, shall we say, dark than this one.

However, this Disney version of Oliver Twist will always be near and dear to my heart. Why?

Frodo Baggins is just around the bend!

Because I first saw Elijah Wood in Huckleberry Finn and Flipper and developed a solid and healthy crush on him from a young age. So to cast him as the Artful Dodger seemed brilliant to me at the time. Never mind that he wasn't British. Nor, come to think of it, is Richard Dreyfuss. But that did not seem to matter to 13-year-old me who simply thought Elijah Wood was the best thing since Luke Skywalker.

Re-watching it as an adult, and having not seen it for at least a decade, well, my views have changed somewhat. But I am still firmly convinced that this version if a great introductory version of Oliver Twist. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be intimidated by period dramas? If you have little to no experience with them, the last thing you're ready for is a foray into a complicated drama of thick accents and dark scenery.


Be kind to your friends and family who might be interested in dipping a toe in the enormous lake that is Dickens film adaptations. Show them this 1997 version of Oliver Twist. It takes a complex and long-winded story and whittles it comprehensively down to 90 minutes, palatable to even the most restless spirit.

Strong British accents are noticeably absent, with the lead actors doing an admirable job of faking them. Which I honestly don't mind, even though that probably makes me less of a purist. Hey, if the Brits can fake American accents and get away with it (BADLY, I might add), then we should be given a free pass to do the same. What goes around comes around, I always say.


As for the adaptation itself, I'm pretty sure a lot of the dialogue is not out of the book, but I couldn't say for sure since, like I said, I've never read it. But I seriously doubt that Dodger refers to prison as "That great institution of higher learning" just as I also know he was certainly not a teenager. That is another change I don't mind, simply because it's Elijah Wood and I'll take him when and where I can get him, which nowadays is few and far between.

But the adaptation has some excellent little nuggets too, which I'll go on to share after I share some screen caps that I took from my shiny, new DVD.


No one can quite do serious like Elijah Wood, but he also smiles a lot in his role as the Dodger, but his facial muscles move so darn fast that it's hard to catch him in a smile! Close, but not quite!


Little Alex Trench as Oliver, absolutely adorable and lively, able to hold his own against Elijah and Richard Dreyfuss, which must have been no easy feat.


It doesn't matter who's doing it . . . I hate watching Elijah Wood get pushed around. Some things never change. Like Bill Sikes.


Played by David O'Hara, Sikes is always the same. Sometimes he's more terrifying, sometimes less, but always a brute, and here he's threatening the Dodger's life so he'll give up the truth that Nancy is helping Oliver escape back to the Brownlow family who had taken him in.


The Dodger escapes with his life . . . and a guinea. It's one of those moments in life where you can see the allegory playing out right before your eyes. Judas Iscariot and 40 pieces of silver came to brilliant life in this single moment of acting. And a very truthful moment because Oliver has done nothing wrong, certainly nothing to warrant a betrayal by a boy he counted as his friend. And The Dodger knows it and the guilt eats him up inside.

Also, it made for terrific practice for Frodo's famous scene with the Ring in hand and tears streaming down his face before parting from the Fellowship at the River Anduin! But you didn't hear that from me!


The tragically lovely and compassionate Nancy (Antoine Byrne) who wants to do the right thing, but is also cowed by so many terrible years of abuse. Her gown is more modest than most in this version and I appreciated that!


And Richard Dreyfuss. Apart from Ron Moody in the hilarious and brilliant musical Oliver! from 1968, Dreyfuss is my favorite Fagin. He plays him more sympathetically. Don't misunderstand, he's still out to get all that be gotten and use the boys in his care for that end, but he's not all bad in this version and I kind of like him. He's a softened version of Fagin which makes him a good counterpoint to Sikes who is just as nasty as ever.


I adore Rose Maylie (Olivia Caffrey) for her kindness and her faith in reaching out to a little street urchin like Oliver. She has the biggest heart and the kindest disposition in the entire story.

You may also tell from her gown that this version is placed between Regency and before true Victorian, sort of in no man's land. But I love the era, and so I love her dresses and her hairstyle and just everything about her. She's a jewel shining in a sea of misery and darkness and her compassion is desperately needed.

Considering William Wilberforce's reforms would have just recently happened, it makes sense that she, as a wealthy young lady, would take an interest in social reform and in charitable work. Amazing how much change one man could implement!


And then little Alex Trench with his signature half-grin Only don't let the smile fool you. He's polite and good-natured, but he reaches a point of no longer accepting things as they come to him and he stands up for himself. Excellent little actor with a lot of charisma. I just love him as Oliver.

And there you go! A brief look into the actors and characters of Oliver Twist! This is a tidy, mild version of a fairly dark story. Yes, it is violent, but mostly off screen or implied violence. You only think you've seen something when you really haven't. Some of the best films work this way, showing you less and tricking you into thinking you've seen more.

If I'm ever in the mood for a short jaunt into a period film that isn't Jane Austen, Oliver Twist is an old stand-by, especially now that I FINALLY have it on DVD!

Make sure to visit Old-Fashioned Charm for some more reviews! She'll post a collection of links every month so make sure to look for that! ❤

7 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Some things never change. He'll probably still be cute when he's 90. Some folks just have all the luck! ;)

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  2. I don't think I've ever heard of this version. Huh. By 1997 I was paying attention to movies, so surely I must have heard of it at the time and then forgotten?

    Anyway, I love the movie version of Oliver! and have seen it many times, but it's the only version I've seen, so maybe I'll try to see this at some point. Lovely, comprehensive review!

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    1. Wow! Somehow I thought everyone had heard of this movie, but I guess not. It's very cute and condensed, which sometimes is a really nice way to spent 90 minutes.

      I think I need to rewatch Oliver!. It's been far too long. I remember loving it.

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  3. Oooh, definitely adding this to my TBW list!! This looks kind of similar in tone and approach to the Nicholas Nickleby starring Anne Hathaway, which (minus a couple teensy scenes/moments) I consider to be an all around colorful, energetic, very general Dickens/period drama introduction. :) Have you seen that one? I own it, but haven't actually watched it in in quite a while. . .

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    1. YES, exactly right! I absolutely love Nicholas Nickleby and remember seeing it in theaters with a friend waaaaay back in 2002. It was actually one of my very first DVDS. My parents gave me a dvd player, Nicholas Nickleby and First Knight for my birthday in either 02 or 03. Funny the things one remembers!

      It is such a delightful abridged version of a very long story, yet another of Dickens' books that I haven't read because it looks so long. I am thinking of writing for it too, but we'll see how much time I have.

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  4. I haven't seen this version - and it looks great! I will have to search it out. I loved Elijah in Huckleberry Finn and, obviously, LOTR!
    Fabulous book - well worth reading, one day!

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