It's a marvel that there remains in England rolling fields unspoiled by urban sprawl. On the whole, it is amazing that so much of such a tiny country has continued the country tradition and persisted in building charming hamlets instead of condominiums. Although much of the film takes place on elaborate soundstages, the first quarter of the film sets up the gentle naivety of Oliver Twist by his week-long march through lush, green properties.
It is a gorgeous and faithful adaptation of Dickens' classic tale, following the learning curve of the ten-year-old orphan as he falls in with a rough group of young scoundrels led by Sir Ben Kingsley (in what's sure to be an Oscar-nominated performance) as Fagin. Kingsley plays Fagin with affected charm and deep psychosis, a man posessed by fear and greed, but also kind and protective of his boys.
Besides Kingsley, other standout performances can be attributed to brash actress Leanne Rowe as soft-hearted and increasingly paranoid (for good reason) Nancy; murderous villain Bill Sykes (venomously played by British character actor Jamie Foreman, last seen in similar turns in Layer Cake and Gangster No. 1), and a very bizarre cameo by another of Britain's chamelons, Mark Strong, who plays the flamboyant "bad'un," Toby Crackit. These supporting players add a bit of colour (literally, Nancy and Toby both have flaming red hair) to the dreary world of greys that was industrialised Victorian London. Costume designer Anna Sheppard dresses the world of Oliver Twist in drab, dirty hues of grimey greys and used-to-be white.
Young Twist (embodied with perfunctory lovliness and a bit of pouty indignance by newcomer Barney Clark) bounces from the orphanage to a coffin-makers, where he cries and gets in fights over the virtue of his mother and runs away, only to end up getting picked out by the pickpocket The Artful Dodger (Harry Eden) who isn't so much artful as he is a cocky child who brazenly steals while other actors are deliberately looking away. He briefly flirts with normalcy when rescued by the kindly Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke in a walrus of a mustache), but falls back in with Fagin's thieves, suffering indignity and grisly wounds, narrowly escapes death and eventually ends up in good circumstances. But not before there is more crying.