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Oliver Twist
updated 11.8.2001

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I loved Oliver Twist, it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. The novel must be hard to adapt for film, to translate well. It is very dreamlike and has some wonderful poetic passages. I think the series really does justice to it, and brings out some beautiful themes. Some moments of Mr. Bleasdale's direction are inspired. Robert Lindsay stands out in it, he's just hypnotic and brilliant. This should be on DVD!

Anne-Marie DaSilva
Montreal, QC

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I would like to say that Oliver Twist is an extraordinary piece of literature and is an astounding film! Dickens is the man!

Kim Epstein
Willow Street, PA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I finally got around to watching Alan Bleasdale's dramatization of Oliver Twist on tape; I watched the whole thing in almost one go. I can understand the objections some have posted... I recommend to them the 1985 BBC miniseries of the novel. The production values are pretty grim, but it's well acted, and faithful to the letter and the spirit of the novel (and has the best Mrs. Bumble ever in Miriam Margolyes)!

That said, I think Bleasdale's script is a thing of genius. This is an Oliver Twist for the turn of the 21st century, not fol-de-rol Cockney and pseudo-Victorian sentimentality, not updated Newgate Gothic, but a gripping drama about flawed and complex human beings, beating at the bars of cages built by class and culture. No, the production values aren't those of a big-budget movie, and I suspect a few too many hard close-ups disguise the fact that the room sets are incomplete or that the streets don't look quite right or that there aren't enough people to suggest a crowd. This one triumphs on the basis of its script, and especially its acting. One problem with filming something like this is that its so familiar; everyone's seen Oliver ask for more, and Bill murder Nancy, etc. By reconstructing the perspective, paring down the plot, and keeping things moving, this version also keeps things fresh.

I wouldn't have believed I'd enjoy a version where the bulk of the emphasis isn't on the thieves (this is one of my favorite novels -- I've read it over 20 times and still feel like I live in Fagin's den every time), especially since the other parts of the novel (e.g. the sojourn with the Maylies) are often so, well... dull. But here we have a Brownlow who isn't a saintly do-gooder, but a complex man actually capable of viciousness! We see Oliver's father for the cad (albeit likeable) that he is. And we get the superb, wonderful, brilliant, fearless Lindsay Duncan's evil Mrs. Leeford. I can see why Bleasdale likes her so much as an actress. Marc Warren's Monks (an Edward Leeford played a little like Edward Scissorhands) is just heartbreaking. Not to give away the ending to those who haven't seen this, but I just gasped at the genius of what's in store for him. I'll watch this again -- in fact, I can't wait to do so!

G.M. Baxter
Vancouver, BC

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
After reading some the comments here, I was rather disturbed to see that many of the writers seem to think that Dickens's work is somehow sacrosanct and should never be adapted in any way. I thought Alan Bleasdale did an outstanding job of bringing out some of the more shadowy characters in the book, and giving insight into their motivations. I also thought the acting was first-rate all around, with special kudos to the brilliant Marc Warren as Edward Leeford. He was wonderful.

However, I am extremely upset and disappointed that PBS saw fit to cut 2 HOURS from the original British production. WHY was this done? Surely PBS could have scheduled ample programming time so that we here in the U.S. could see the entire broadcast. I would expect this kind of high-handed editing down on a regular network -- but not on PBS. Any chance we'll get to see the un-cut version in the future? I'm sure many of us would like to see what we've missed. To whomever is administering this Forum, I really would like an answer to this question.

Susan Barnett
Royal Oak, MI

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I just watched the first installment and thought it was brilliant... wonderfully acted with clean camera angles and great make up. here.

Avery Meeks
Belfast, ME

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Being a Dickens fan, I am usually not supportive of "new twists" on his classic plots. I tend to be a purist when it comes to any alterations in his stories, but I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment of Oliver Twist. It contained a captivating storyline and I found myself glued to the television when I had no real intention of watching it to begin with. So "thumbs up" for part one; let us see if the next two episodes can continue to intrigue me even more!

Paul Hayden
Taunton, MA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I was spellbound by the first episode. The drama of Agnes giving birth and then the development of the events leading up to that moment was human drama at its best.

As a father of two young daughters I was deeply touched by the moment of truth Agnes had with her father. Scene after scene disturbed, entertained, and delighted.

What a wonderful story teller Dickens was! He saw humans for what we are and pointed the mirror at us all. Thanks for a great viewing experience.

Charles Lohrstorfer
Decatur, IL

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I have just turned off the version of Oliver Twist aired on KCET in Los Angeles on Oct. 8, 2000. Who decided that we needed to be filled in on where and how Oliver came into being? I am outraged that someone decided they needed to elaborate on Dickens's masterpiece by fictionalizing on his original story to make it easier for the modern-day reader/listener/watcher to understand the beginning of the novel. If the originators of this adaptation had left the "script" as is at this point in terms of air-time we would already be acquainted with the characters of the Artful Dodger, Bill Sikes, Fagin, etc. It goes to reason that if these characters are skimped on at the beginning there will be less time to observe their characters as the story moves on and therefore those who are not familiar with the details of the story will be cheated out of very important details of the story. I am appalled by the fact that at times whenever I have mentioned Oliver Twist and asked if anyone has read the book, the answer has been, "No, but I loved the musical!" The same with Les Miserables, Cats, etc. No one ever connects Victor Hugo, T.S. Eliot or Charles Dickens with these works -- they think they have been written by Andrew Lloyd Webber or such! Why are the adapters feeding this ignorance by re-writing the masters' works?

I have been watching Masterpiece Theatre for many years and for the most part have not been disappointed. This adaptation however of Oliver Twist I find insulting. I would like my opinion to be passed on to the "powers that be" responsible for this. Thank you.

Valerie Saunders
Beverly Hills, CA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I enjoyed the first two imaginative and surprising hours of Oliver Twist. However, I have one important reservation. In Dickens, we always seem to be witnesses to the apparently inexplicable forces that bruise and refine the characters of the heroes. The history, fate's motivation, is often revealed even as the novel comes to an end. This dramatic and enlightening convergence of past and present is a powerful aspect and one of the greatest delights of Dickens's writing. In this new adaptation, we seem to be given all the background...and the possibility of magical revelation is now lost. I fear that the narrative may become somewhat banal, typical and, I think, less vital. In some sense, since I now know the roots, I almost don't need to watch the tree grow. I will be interested in my response as we get into the real novel. Will the vast prelude help or hinder the work? And, as film is NOT book, might it prove a better choice?

Andrew Appel
Germantown, NY

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
While the characterizations were true to the original and the photography excellent, I was sorely disappointed in this production. I have always relied upon Masterpiece Theatre to screen accurate versions of the original that would reinforce an earlier reading of the work or perhaps substitute for it. The liberties taken in adapting Oliver Twist create a Hollywood version unworthy of this series.

Anne Harper
Belmont, MA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I think it is incredibly noble thing to reach into the depths of great literature and revive such an incredible story for a new generation to behold. Oliver Twist must not die, because there is something too alive, too vulnerable and too human to let it fade into obscurity. I commend Alan Bleasdale for the effort put forth to preserve an accurate piece of history and drama so we can all enjoy it. Thank you for reintroducing me to these characters.

You have done so with an intensity and originality that makes me feel as though it were the first time I had ever met them. It is a paradigm which other movies and directors who seek to recreate the past should follow. I am proud to introduce this story to my younger brother with the faith that it will accurately recreate the emotions which made me love the book so much. Thank you again

Edward Benson Fuller
Boston, MA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
First, I must say that PBS is the salvation of television. I await the new seasons with high anticipation much the same way that I did as a kid when the new model cars were introduced each fall.

This Oliver Twist adaptation is a marvelous, riveting, and fascinating production. The back story technique employed by the director is wonderful. As usual, Masterpiece Theatre has produced a program so real that it is as if one was viewing a video from a 19th century time capsule. The great 19th century English novels (especially Dickens's) are speedy tour-de-force vignettes of the architecture, language, mores, habits, traditions and beliefs that form a basis for western civilization as we know it today.

Steven Lee
Omaha, NE

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
In the 25 of so years that we have watched Masterpiece Theatre, and judging only from episode I, you understand, we can't remember a dramatization so gross, so coarse and unfaithful to the novel and author as this travesty entitled Oliver Twist. We don't begrudge Mr. Bleasdale his right to reconstruct Dickens, but we would hope that those who decide what is to air and what not, would. [In "The Adaptation"] Mr. Bleasdale states that adapting Dickens put him in the "big boy" class. Sadly, this is not a "big boy" production, but amateur night at the Roxy Theatre!

Evely and David V. Cohn
Louisville, KY

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Oliver Twist is my favorite Dickens novel. I have enjoyed a number of stage, screen & tv adaptations in the past. The original musical both on stage & screen were brilliant, capturing the spirit of the story despite the exclusion of some and the reduction of other characters, and its negation of Dickens's anti-Semitic attributes to the character of Fagin. The 1940s movie starring Sir Alec Guinness was as dark and dismal and deep as the book- just superb. The few episodes I caught of a British tv series shown on A & E some years ago were excellent, and I wish I could find them on video and see the whole thing. All these I liked.

I did not like the BBC tv movie starring George C. Scott & Tim Curry that was shown on PBS some years ago -- I could not get past an American sounding Fagin and I don't remember much else about it. The recent Disney version was horrible -- I couldn't even watch the whole thing. They Americanized and modernized it so that it didn't look, sound or feel like Dickens's book anymore.

Which brings me to this present version which I'd so looked forward to because the quality of Masterpiece Theatre is so consistently high. In it's favor, the look of the production is excellent and some of the performances are first rate. It has the best Sally I'd ever seen. But generally and so far (Only parts I & II have been shown as of this writing) I've been sadly disappointed. It seems like the aim of this production was to focus on those characters and plot lines which were either absent or reduced in previous adaptations. But I don't think this has enhanced the story, quite the reverse. I didn't mind having a prequel even though I thought -- I bought the explanation given in the introduction to justify it-- but I thought it was unnecessary. But then I realized that it was necessary in order to emphasize the character of Monks and the shamelessly invented character of his mother. This production could be called "Monks and his Mother". Many liberties have been taken in this production...

Deborah Cohen
Chicago, IL

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I think that this was a very good story and I loved the film. I thought it was very romantic, yet sad. The film was very well put together and it kept me interested. There were hardly ever any times that the movie was boring.

Cumberland Gap, TN

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I think that this movie was absolutely great. I really enjoyed it. It was moving. I mean, I thought that it would be boring, but it was exciting. This movie filled me with emotions I never knew I could feel. It made me happy. I felt as if I knew Agnes, Oliver, Edwin, etc. It was just magnificent. I really liked it.

Jennifer Sulfridge
Middlesboro, KY

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
It was a very good story, and it was very realistic. Oliver's life is very confusing because he doesn't know anything about himself except that the fact that he is an orphan. No one knows his relatives or where they might be. He starts to work for Fagin, but he decides that lifestyle of stealing is not for him so he quits and decides to go search for his family. Finally, in the end, he finds some of his relatives and lives happily ever after. I thought it was very interesting and exciting.

Andrew Nickel
Jacksboro, TN

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I love Dickens and all of the previous British productions. But, sadly, this Oliver Twist is not to my taste. It's hard to imagine Dickens's characters being exaggerated; nonetheless, this cast has brought new meaning to the words "over acting." As near as I can figure, every tenth word of dialogue is articulated in a clear manner sans drool. The rest is a muttered mess of excessive self-indulgent drama.

And, pray tell, who determined that the adorable Sam Smith could act?

Respectfully submitted by a life-long Masterpiece Theatre fan:

Lisa Saxton
Hackensack, NJ

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I looked forward to your presentation of Oliver Twist. I had just recently read David Copperfield and was in a Dickens mood. The first episode was totally engrossing and I was loving it until the last fifteen minutes when our hero, Oliver Twist, was so cruelly born. I couldn't take it! His tortured helpless newborn cries, the evil stupid people who couldn't get him his first feeding, caused me to turn off the TV. Now I'm afraid to watch the other two episodes. Cruelty to children is not something I want to watch late Sunday night before I try to fall asleep.

I will give it a second try and let you know if I was able to watch. I have the feeling this version of Oliver Twist is strong stuff for the grandmother of two precious little girls.

Karen Vorbeck
Rumford, RI

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Prior to viewing this particular version of Oliver Twist, I can assure you that I have seen my fair share of adaptations that completely massacre the true Dickens plot and take unnecessary liberties. I thought that, because the entire first part of the series was a part of the novel that Dickens did not especially elaborate on, it would be another disappointment. However, once I started watching for just a few minutes, I was hooked. It really makes you realize what a genius character-weaver Dickens was; all of the characters are linked in some special way that is not too prominent in the book. I think that the book was transformed from the written word into an image on our TV screens very pleasingly, and we should give the creative staff a round of applause. Another very positive aspect, I find, is the performances delivered by all of the actors. Thank God that the young boy playing Oliver was not painfully annoying and obnoxious is all I have to say.

Westwood, NJ

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
As a great fan of Dickens in general and of Oliver Twist specifically, I must tell you I was most disappointed.

In the 1980s, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Royal Shakespeare's 9-hour Broadway production of Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby, and have been convinced ever since that to do Dickens justice in film (or on stage), one must avoid the commercial pressure to squeeze his rich, thoughtful, brilliant characterizations, descriptions, & plots into an emasculated 2-hour "highlight."

Alas, after watching the first 2-hour installment, I found that, unlike the Royal Shakespeare's Nicholas Nickleby, the screenplay had been almost entirely re-written by one Alan Bleasdale, with very little of Dickens glorious dialogue, descriptive narrative, and in many cases, even plot remaining!

Mr. Bleasdale's many "reworkings" of the plot I view as a gross disservice to today's audiences. My major problem is his peremptory reversal of the surprise dénouement from the end (where Dickens intended it and where it properly belongs!) to the beginning. Knowing all about Oliver's heritage and potential inheritance strips the story of much of Dickens signature suspense & surprise.

Mr. Bleasdale states that "By beginning with this material, the audience would understand the motivation of the characters throughout, and whilst writing it, I could be plucking up the courage to get to the point where I enter the same arena as Dickens." But why didn't he simply stick with the original, brilliant, classic text, the way the genius Dickens intended. That is precisely what the screenwriter(s) of the utterly brilliant Royal Shakespeare's Nicholas Nickleby did and it was a huge success!

The idea that today's audiences couldn't handle the various plot twists & coincidences or that Dickens somehow accidentally had all these "plot balls in the air, and he suddenly decided to bring them all down to earth in one go" (Producer Keith Thompson) is pure poppycock! Why indeed would these "...terrible coincidences" be such "... a big problem for a modern audience?"

Thompson continues: "By taking the decision to tell the back story in its proper chronological context, it rids it of that curse. Now nothing is down to coincidence, everything is being planned. Not only does it explain how Oliver came to be born, but it also shows us that Fagin, Monks and his mother are all on a mission to get their hands on Oliver's inheritance. They're all basically after the money."

Why is it such a curse to have a wonderfully unexpected surprise ending? Is coincidence so unpalatable to modern audiences? Why must we now be spoon-fed the motivations of the primary "bad guys" (Fagin, Monks, and his mother) by hearing about them in minute detail in the first third of the film? Dickens' delicious sense of mystery and suspense are watered down to the point of predictable modern pabulum.

Needless to say, I'm a strict constructionist who loves his Dickens as God intended!

Rob Schafer
Granite Springs, NY

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Alan Bleasdale's adaptation of Oliver Twist is a true joy. It does not just get rid of the unbelievable coincidences that the bookstall victim turns out to be Brownlow who has been searching for Oliver and that the burglary house turns out to be where Aunt Rose lives. It also gets rid of the broader coincidence in novels like Tom Jones and Oliver Twist that the central characters face ruin, maybe even the gallows, but it's OK because in the end they not only survive but turn out to be rich. Here, we know from the start that Oliver is rich, if he can just survive.

The PBS production is wonderful. That scene of little Oliver running full speed with all those Dickens characters in pursuit behind him is perfect.

Jim Adams
Washington, DC

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
What can one say... marvelous, brilliant, very well done by all. Great cast, great actors all. But a couple in particular... First, the young man who played Oliver... That poor boy! I just wanted to rescue him from all his troubles. I felt so bad for him, I wondered if he was acting or not. He reminded me of my own three year old son. I wanted to hug him and tell him everything will be all right. Brilliant work by such a young man. Then there is Robert Lindsay as Fagin. Brilliant! What a great actor and great talent to pull off different and varied roles so very, very well. Wonderful. I can not say enough.

Winston Stone
Middleborough, MA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Bleasdale's Oliver Twist was fascinating to watch just to see how bad it could get. It never disappointed with the ending reaching a crescendo of awfulness. Oliver Twist twisted out of recognition. What bowdlerized rubbish. As if you could improve on Dickens.

Stewart Winton
Bonita Springs, FL

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I feel that too many liberties were taken with Dickens's novel. Why was the character Mrs. Maylie totally left out? Who got the idea of having Fagin speak Czech and indicate that he was originally from Prague? If you were going to make such a serial, you should have stayed more with what Dickens wrote. The Artful Dodger and Charley Bates were supposed to be closer to Oliver in age than the actors they showed. Other details were also skimmed over too much. Thank you for your attention.

Henry Peck
South Charleston, OH

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I really enjoyed Mr. Bleasdale's adaptation of Oliver Twist. Dickens's stories are always rich in their characters and the casting was spot on, especially in the case of Marc Warren's portrayal of Oliver's half-brother "Edward" -- who seemed equally as lost as Oliver when it came to the adults around him. (I had grown to like his character by the last episode and was rather relieved to see that he might've had a chance at a happy ending instead of his sorry demise in the novel). Well done.

Linda Miller
Spirit Lake, IA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Re: Alan Bleasdale's Oliver Twist... this was, by my humble estimation, the finest production of Oliver that I have ever seen...Dickens is one of the greatest writers ever and I read and re-read his works continually. I also watch every film version and this is my all time favorite. I especially enjoyed the role of Monks by Marc Warren. Tears were actually shed at times; I was mesmerized by his portrayal. I watched a second time on another PBS station just to hone in on Warren's performance. Many thanks for hours of pure enjoyment watching this presentation.

Marcia Savela
Kasson, MN

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I am greatly enjoying Oliver Twist, even though I do not agree with some of the revisions. Why did Alan Bleasdale have to throw in an extra murder and an attempted murder? I can understand his trying to present the back story in an understandable manner, but when he makes the death of Oliver's father a murder, I think he is just indulging his creative license.

I have a question. In England the program aired in four parts, a total of eight hours. But all Masterpiece Theatre listings say it is being broadcast in three parts, and that it is six hours long. Have the programs been edited for American TV?

Albert Sanchez Moreno
East Point, GA

The program was reedited and trimmed for this American Broadcast.

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Please play Oliver Twist again!!!! I cannot stress this enough! An encore performance would suit the occasion for a superb adaptation such as this one.

Alexr Perhacs
Hamilton Square, NJ

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Greetings. This is just a note, a note of praise and a big hats off to the adaptation of Oliver Twist. The Twist was beautiful yet disturbing -- a beautifully disturbing production. All the actors in Oliver Twist were amazing. I do have a question about the incredible performances of Robert Lindsay (Fagin) and Marc Warren (Monks). I would like to know about other films or stage plays these two actors have performed in (Web sites?). Oliver Twist is a film I would watch on cold rainy nights. Of course I will order a copy. With much thanks,


Try checking the Internet Movie Database at for other work by these actors.

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