Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist never feels necessary. Harry Eden makes a charismatic Artful Dodger, pal of the titular orphan (the puppy-eyed Barney Clark), and Ben Kingsley is suitably conflicted as their thieving mentor Fagin, but the only real reason to watch this ploddingly faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel is if you can't be bothered to read the book. Both David Lean's 1948 version and Carol Reed's 1968 musical Oliver! are superior.
Ronald Harwood, who wrote Polanski's suffocating The Pianist and the woeful The Statement, sticks to the structure of Dickens' story but conveys little of the character or excitement. Serial television may be the best way to deal with Dickens on screen, with room to breathe for natural cliff-hanging episodes - anything but the join-the-dots treatment here. There is no freshness or visual flair in this drab realisation, which never conjures a sense of peril for any character - least of all the sprog at the centre.
"EVEN THE DIRECTOR APPEARS TO HAVE LOST INTEREST"
Fans of the director may want to read poignancy into proceedings because of his hard childhood, but there's scant real feeling on screen. Jamie Foreman - a good actor - never quite escapes Oliver Reed's shadow as the villainous Bill Sykes and is ill-served by a rushed, stage-bound conclusion even the director appears to have lost interest in. It’s down to Kingsley’s tortured soul to provide a fluttering heartbeat, but by then this crowded, irritating movie has long outstayed its limited welcome. Please sir, can we have some less?