Oscar winning director Roman Polanski’s vision for Oliver Twist is just as dark as you would expect it to be. The pink parasols and stylized costumes from the musical version have been replaced with rotten teeth, muddy streets and starving kids. Polanski roots the classic story in reality—Victorian London was a rugged place to be poor in—and in doing so presents an interesting backdrop for the little boy who asked for more.
Topping the list of good performances here is Sir Ben Kingsley who, as Fagin, the criminal who schools Oliver and the other urchins in the way of grifting and pick pocketing. Kingsley reinvents the character, eliminating the anti-Semitic caricature that marred other versions of the story—most notably David Lean’s 1948 version that was banned in many places for its outrageous portrayal of the character. Kingsley’s take on Fagin is more pathetic than hateful and it could be argued that by offering these boys a life of crime he was, at least, offering them some kind of life other than starving to death on the streets. Look for Kingsley to be nominated for Best Supporting actor come Oscar time.