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Oliver Twist is a novel by Charles Dickens, probably one of the best-known of all his works, along with A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations. It has been the subject of numerous film and television adaptations, and the basis for a highly successful British musical, entitled simply Oliver!.
As with most of Dickens' work, Oliver Twist is used to bring the public's attention to various contemporary social evils, including the workhouse, child labour and the recruitment of children as criminals.
The novel is full of sarcasm and dark humor, even as it treats its serious subject, revealing the hypocrisies of the time.
Oliver is a boy born in a workhouse, who has no idea of his parents' identity. His mother Agnes died in childbirth. By pure chance he is chosen as a scapegoat by the other starving boys, and is made to go and ask for an extra helping at a mealtime ("Please, sir, I want some more."). As a result of this breach of etiquette, he is "sold" by the workhouse as an undertaker's apprentice. The cruelty he suffers at the hands of an older apprentice named Noah Claypole causes him to run away, and he finds his way to London, where he is taken under the wing of The Artful Dodger, a boy criminal.
The Dodger introduces Oliver into his circle of friends, who include Fagin the Jew, a criminal mastermind, and his brutal ally, Bill Sikes. Oliver is taught crimes such as picking pockets and forced to take part in them. He is shown kindness by Bill's girlfriend, Nancy.
After a robbery that goes wrong, Oliver is taken into the home of a wealthy man, Mr Brownlow. Unknown to them, efforts are being made by Oliver's half-brother, Monks, to locate him and prevent him from obtaining his inheritance, but Mr Brownlow soon begins to suspect that Oliver is the son of his niece. Sikes and Nancy snatch Oliver back, and Sikes takes him on a burglary, planning to get him a criminal record as a favour to Monks. But Oliver is left behind when the burglary goes wrong, and is adopted into the home of Rose Maylie . Ultimately he is restored to Mr Brownlow.
Meanwhile, Monks and Fagin are plotting to try to go after Oliver again and either kidnap him or kill him. Nancy is fearful of such a scenario and goes to Rose Maylie and Mr Brownlow to divulge the plot of the evil pair. She manages to keep her secret meetings hidden until Noah Claypole (he has fallen out with the same undertaker who once employed Oliver and moved to London to seek his own fortune) agrees to spy on Nancy and then gives information to Fagin and Sikes. In a fit of rage, Sikes murders Nancy and is himself killed while being pursued by the police. Monks is forced to explain his secrets and give his inheritance to Oliver, and moves to America soon afterwards. Fagin is arrested and hanged for his crimes.
Film and TV adaptations
There have been many film and TV adaptations of Dickens' novel. As of 2003, the most recent is an ITV/PBS production from 1999, adapted by Alan Bleasdale and starring Sam Smith as Oliver, Robert Lindsay as Fagin, and Andy Serkis as Bill Sikes. see Oliver Twist (miniseries).
The earliest film adaptation is a silent movie made in 1909. Other adaptations include an animation from 1974, and a feature film from 1948 by David Lean, starring Alec Guinness in one of his most defining roles as Fagin. Also famous is a musical adaptation, Oliver!, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1969. A TV-movie was released in 1997.
Adaptations of the novel tend to simplify the original story. The way the book is normally interpreted on screen causes modern readers to focus on Bill Sikes as the villain. They thus fail to recognise how Fagin has trained Sikes and made him what he is; part of Dickens' message is that he might have done the same with Oliver had chance not intervened.
Another adaptation is by Disney. In 1988, they made an animated movie, Oliver & Company, about an orphaned cat named Oliver who meets a dog called Dodger.
The renowned comic book creator, Will Eisner, disturbed that the anti-semitism in the typical depiction of Fagin, created a graphic novel in 2003 titled Fagin the Jew . In this book, the back story of the character and events of Oliver Twist are depicted from his point of view.
The 2003 movie Twist by director Jacob Tierney is loosely based on the novel but set in modern-day Toronto with male prostitution and drugs rather than pick-pocketing.
During the summer and autumn 2004, film director Roman Polanski directed a new 'Oliver Twist' version as a feature film that is due to be released in the theatres in the autumn 2005. Starring are Barney Clark (Oliver Twist), Ben Kingsley (Fagin), Jamie Foreman (Bill Sikes), Harry Eden (the Artful Dodger) and Leanne Rowe (Nancy). The screenplay of this new version has been signed by Ronald Harwood.
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