Oliver Twist (1948)

David Lean directs Robert Newton, Alec Guinness and Kay Walsh in this classic tale of the orphan boy who gets caught up with some London pickpockets.

The first strange thing about Lean’s Oliver Twist is, through no fault of its own, you keep waiting for the cast to burst into song. Such is the cultural stranglehold the sixties musical version has that you cannot escape examining the bleaker version under the spotlight of mindwashed cockney sing-a-long comparison. And it is far bleaker, taking the high contrast gothic imagery that defined the prologue of Lean’s superior Dickens adaptation (Great Expectations) and committing to displaying the stark social horrors unwaveringly. The second strange thing is Alec Guinness’ pantomime Jew stereotype. A hangover from a more prejudiced time, his racially awful Fagin stinks a fair few scenes out for modern noses. For such a tight and visually daring film to be hampered by such a dated piece of physical anti-semitism jars. If you can get over that shoddy barnacle, then this is an otherwise perfect slice of Victorian tragedy.


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