Oliver Twist

Dickens' classic tale of class separatism and the search for love and belonging gets an intimate take from director Tony Bill. Rather than explore the malicious depths of Fagin and Bill Sikes (so expertly played by Alec Guinness and Robert Newton in the 1948 adaptation), Bill keeps the p.o.v. squarely focused on 12-year-old Oliver (Alex Trench) as he staggers between Fagin's thieves' den and the luxuriant living of the Brownlows. Most audiences' filmic introduction to the story was the Oscar-winning musical "Oliver!" from 1968, and the perky brightness of that depiction does indeed inform this interpretation. Language is updated, evil and good are painted with faces ugly and beautiful and the congenial nature of everyone Oliver encounters is amplified to surreal proportions.

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Elijah Wood, David O'Hara, Alex Trench, Antoine Byrne, Anthony Finnegan, Olivia Caffrey, Maria Charles, Des Braiden, Eileen Colgan, Eilish Moore, Lisa Dwan, Conor Evans, A.J. Kennedy, Jeffrey O'Toole, Ned Dennehy, Sean Madden, Max Reynolds, Ferdia Murphy.

Story starts in 1825 in the north of England and quickly moves from the post-childbirth death of Oliver’s mother to the day before his 12th birthday. After losing a dare during a breakfast of gruel, he asks Widow Corney (Maria Charles) — changing gender in one of the most famous lines of literature — “Please, ma’am, I want some more.”

Oliver is tossed from the workhouse and he ambles to London to locate relatives, meeting up with the Artful Dodger Jack Dawkins (Elijah Wood), who introduces him to a life of pickpocketing and to Fagin (Richard Dreyfuss), master of an army of boys who support the elderly curmudgeon.

Telepic follows Dickens’ novel closely — Oliver strikes a relationship of love with Nancy (Antoine Byrne) and fear with Sikes (David O’Hara). An erroneous arrest leads him to the care of Mr. Brownlow (Anthony Finnegan) and his niece Rose Maylei (Olivia Caffrey) and, as the story turns, Oliver becomes a commodity, a hostage and, in its cheery conclusion, a welcome relative.

Director Bill stirs considerable tension and empathy through a series of one-on-one scenes centered on Oliver and Fagin, Oliver and Sikes, Oliver and the key women, and so on. Director of photography Bing Sokolsky keeps the angles taut — a far cry from the expanse of the ’68 musical — and the actors’ compact performances benefit greatly from the approach.

Dreyfuss plays Fagin with a charming tightness, guarded in dealings with adults, open and benevolent toward his boys. Where other adaptations have made his character the cornerstone, here he’s almost in a corner as an overseer of the ne’er-do-wells, his miserly nature appearing in flourishes rather than dollops and his compassion for Oliver and privacy a paramount concern.

Wood plays Dodger with an eye of envy cast toward Oliver; he’s well aware of a better world, yet he accepts conscription to a life of crime with glee and a sense of honor. As Sikes, O’Hara is a sturdy and constant study in bitterness; Byrne plays Nancy as love personified.

Photography is a well-executed mixture of winter and autumn hues. Van Dyke Parks’ evocative score acts as an extra character, adding richness and depth to some scenes and doing little more than giving a gentle prodding in others.

Popular on Variety

Oliver Twist

Sun. (16), 7-9 p.m., ABC

Production: Filmed in Ireland by Laurence Mark Prods. and Walt Disney Television. Executive producers, Laurence Mark, John Baldecchi; co-executive producer, Stephen Sommers; producer, Steven North; co-producers, Richard Dreyfuss, Morgan O'Sullivan; director, Tony Bill; writer, Monte Merrick; based on the novel by Charles Dickens;

Crew: camera, Bing Sokolsky; editor, Axel Hubert; production designer, Keith Wilson; music, Van Dyke Parks; casting, John and Ros Hubbard

Cast: Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Elijah Wood, David O'Hara, Alex Trench, Antoine Byrne, Anthony Finnegan, Olivia Caffrey, Maria Charles, Des Braiden, Eileen Colgan, Eilish Moore, Lisa Dwan, Conor Evans, A.J. Kennedy, Jeffrey O'Toole, Ned Dennehy, Sean Madden, Max Reynolds, Ferdia Murphy.

More TV

  • T.J. Dillashaw, right, kicks Cody Garbrandt

    Disney Plans UFC Broadcast for FX

    UFC matches will return to FX  – but not on a permanent basis. ESPN has been showing preliminary bouts to UFC pay-per-view events for the last while on ESPN and ESPN2, and then showing the main card on its ESPN+ subscription video service. In September, the early lineup will air on FX, which the UFC [...]

  • George RR Martin

    George R.R. Martin Says HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Ending Won't Influence Future Novels

    Geroge R.R. Martin is sticking to his original plan when it comes to the future of “Game of Thrones.” In an interview with The Observer, Martin claimed that HBO’s controversial ending for the series would have no affect on the endings of the last two novels. “No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t change anything at all,” [...]

  • Listen: 'Pennyworth' Producer Talks Delving into

    Listen: 'Pennyworth' Executive Producer Talks Delving into Alfred's Backstory

    Bruno Heller may have served as an executive producer on the Batman-inspired series “Gotham” for the past five years, but it’s actually real-life people (not superheroes) that intrigue the producer the most. It’s for that exact reason that Heller’s newest series finds him exploring the origin stories of Batman’s butler Alfred in the Epix drama [...]

  • "Trust Issues" - Dylan and Lizzie

    'Instinct' Canceled After Two Seasons

    CBS has canceled “Instinct” after two seasons. Series creator Michael Rauch announced the cancellation Friday on Twitter, writing, “I’m very sad to relay the news that @instinctcbs won’t be renewed for a 3rd season. We will double up this Sunday and our season/series finale will be Aug 25.” Rauch also thanked series stars Alan Cumming [...]

  • Maisel Day

    My Mostly OK Maisel Day (Column)

    When Amazon announced its first-ever Maisel Day, I was intrigued. For one day, Aug. 15, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” fans and Angelenos (fangelenos?) could hit up various restaurants, theaters and retailers throughout Los Angeles for special deals, all at 1959 prices. Among the gems: $2.50 makeovers, $0.99 pastrami sandwiches and $0.30 for a gallon of [...]

  • Nordisk Film & TV Fond Announces

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond Backs Joachim Trier, Ole Bornedal, Yellow Bird

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond has announced three features, two series and a documentary set to receive $1.4m in financing, as well as distribution, dubbing and cultural initiative support recipients. Doing so, it highlights some of the key titles moving forward in the Nordic region. Already backed by the Danish Film Institute’s largest ever grant [...]

  • TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley' Final

    TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley's' Final Season Sets October Premiere Date

    In today’s roundup, “Silicon Valley” returns to HBO on Oct. 27 and Quibi greenlights a new cooking competition show “Dismantled.” DATES The fifth season of Netflix‘s “Peaky Blinders” will premiere on the streamer Oct. 4. The newest season will continue to follow one gangster family in the lawless streets of Birmingham, UK during the midst [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content