From every angle this is a superb achievement. Dickens’ devotees may object to condensing of the story and omission of some of the minor characters. But what is left still runs close to two hours.
One of its merits is the absence of considerable unnecessary dialog, the child Oliver having the fewest lines ever allotted to so prominent a character. He has the wistful air of the typical Dickens waif and heads almost faultless casting.
Camerawork is on an exceptionally high level. Opening shots of a storm-swept sky and heavy clouds give an eerie quality that immediately grips the imagination. Josephine Stuart’s delineation of a woman in labor pains, dragging herself across rain-sodden fields to a distant light that spells sanctuary, is unparalleled in its poignant realism.
Alec Guinness gives a revoltingly faithful portrait of Fagin and Kay Walsh extracts just the right amount of viciousness overcome by pity in her delineation of Nancy. Robert Newton is a natural for the brutish Sikes and gets every ounce out of his opportunities.