What better remedy on a Sunday afternoon after a partying Saturday night than the new adaptation of Charles Dickens classic Oliver Twist? A remedy it was not.
Roman Polanski's mastery with 'The Pianist' was not in evidence in this much awaited autumn release. My benchmark is certainly the 1968 musical 'Oliver!' which I have seen many a time and for me, brings to life Victorian England through the eyes of young Oliver.
The story is much the same: Victorian England and an innocent orphan walks 70 miles to escape his terrible fate in the countryside, only to become entangled in the dark world of London criminal named Fagin. Innocent Oliver yearns for a better life and a chance meeting with a learned gentleman Mr. Brownlow shows this to be possible. However, this chance and Oliver's life are both threatened as Fagin and his associates want him to be kept in their grimy sordid lifestyle. Fairy tale ending with Oliver escaping to the good life offered by the kind Mr.Brownlow.
Polanski's version is certainly true to the novel and depicted with the finest detail, costumery and sets perfectly rendered. What it lacks is warmth, character building. The decadence of class war and the exploitation of women and children is shown clearly but the film did little else to grip me to my seat.
Young Barnaby Clarke certainly had the fitting look needed for the role but his wide-eyed trembling lip underplayed the part leaving me feeling as though he was an incidental arm to the whole thing. Polanski fell short as a director for this child actor. It was not enough by far.
I liked Mr. Brownlow, well projected by Edward Hardwicke (a familiar face as Dr.Watson from Sherlock Holmes) but the artful dodger was hardly convincing or endearing as he has been in other versions of this film. I was looking forward to Ben Kingsley as Fagin but again this representation with too much make-up and a much mumbled accent left the character cold in his tracks.
V was in office and I watched it with two friends. At the end both declared their love for the movie and quite evidently enjoyed it. I'm the more cynical type. I expected far more from Polanski than sets, costumes and depiction, especally since he chose to make yet another version of something that has already been rendered so well in the past.
I wanted more. I wanted to be transported to another time, to feel the vulnerability and care about the outcome. This was a mere storytelling, jumping from incident to incident without much fire in its belly.
Please, sir, I need more.