Text Version of Who's Who
"....a pale thin child, somewhat diminutive in stature, and decidedly small in circumference. But nature or inheritance had implanted a good sturdy spirit in Oliver's breast. It had had plenty of room to expand, thanks to the spare diet of the establishment; and perhaps to this circumstance may be attributed his having any ninth birth-day at all." Oliver Twist, Chapter 2
Stepping into his costume as Oliver Twist transported ten-year-old Sam Smith back in time to the dismal days described by Charles Dickens in his famous novel:
"I think Oliver has a lot of spirit. He's very tough on the inside, because he can cope with all the horrible things that happen to him. He's also very trusting of other people and doesn't see the bad side of people until they betray him - like Fagin.
"In those days, every day was a struggle for a boy like Oliver; in the workhouse the boys were starving and many of them broke down or died. But not Oliver.
"The best thing for me about the job was making new friends and seeing how professional actors work. I learnt a lot. There was one scene I didn't like very much, where Bill Sikes holds a gun at Oliver. It was quite frightening, and there were real tears running down my face. But everybody gave me a big hug after the scene and told me how well I had done, so I felt fine."
"...a beautiful creature of nineteen..." Oliver Twist, Chapter 49
Mother of Oliver Twist
Agnes falls in love with Edwin Leeford -- a close friend of her father's -- and becomes pregnant by him. She flees her family, clutching only the locket given to her by Leeford, and eventually arrives at the seaside town where she gives birth to Oliver in the workhouse. She dies without giving her name.
Nineteen-year-old Sophia Myles plays the tragic Agnes Fleming:
"The story of Agnes is totally heartbreaking. I turned over the first page of the script, and I was in floods of tears. I had no idea what was in store because in the novel, Agnes just gives birth, kisses the child and promptly dies. But in Bleasdale's dramatization, there's this absolutely beautiful and tragic love story between Agnes and Edwin. She is hopelessly in love with him, but she cannot understand why he doesn't marry her."
"She is a victim of her time, as in those days an unmarried mother was just doomed. It is testimony to her great strength of character that she leaves her comfortable home and stable family to head off into the unknown, carrying a baby and having no money. It is heartbreaking stuff, but not sentimental."
Father of Oliver Twist
Dickens only mentions Oliver's father at the end of the novel; it is clear that Leeford's family forced him to marry, at a very young age, an older woman for whom he had no feelings. When he later meets Agnes Fleming, he falls in love for the first time.
Tim Dutton plays Edwin Leeford:
"I have always been a fan of Dickens, and I found it fascinating that Alan Bleasdale had written the character of Edwin Leeford into his version of Oliver Twist. The role was the perfect antidote to the last role I played on television -- a stalker. I try to choose parts which are very different, and there couldn't have been more of a contrast."
Agnes' father and a retired sea captain. When Fleming retires, he forms a friendship with Edwin Leeford.
Alan Bleasdale on Fleming: "Fleming does exist in the novel, and Dickens makes it clear that he died of a broken heart when he lost his daughter. I was fascinated by the glimpse we got of him and the other earlier characters, so I enjoyed fleshing him out."
Alun Armstrong, a well-established actor with a string of credits in film, theatre and television, plays Captain Fleming, the heartbroken father whose eldest daughter, Agnes, runs away from home after discovering she is pregnant by family friend Edwin Leeford.
The wife of Edwin Leeford, ten years older than her husband Edwin. In the novel, Dickens's brief references to her make it known that she was mercenary, but beyond that she had no character as such.
Actress Lindsay Duncan describes her character in Oliver Twist as a monster:
"Elizabeth Leeford is a classic example of a powerful person being thwarted by circumstances. She has strength, imagination and ambition -- all of which are admirable -- but they are misdirected. She also has an incredibly abusive relationship with her son, Monks."
"...The man who was seated there, was tall and dark, and wore a large cloak. He had the air of a stranger; and seemed, by a certain haggardness in his look, as well as by the dusty soils on his dress, to have travelled some distance...(his) eye, which was keen and bright, but shadowed by a scowl of distrust and suspicion ... repulsive to behold." Oliver Twist, Chapter 37
Monks (Edward Leeford)
Oliver's half-brother, the son of Edwin and Elizabeth Leeford. A strong presence in Dickens's novel, but perhaps a rather inconsistent character. He is the product of a loveless marriage, never sees his father and is brought up by his overbearing and cruel mother.
Marc Warren plays the epileptic and disturbed Monks:
"The younger Monks is quite vulnerable and very much the victim and I would imagine that the audience will empathize with him, but later on he's become very driven. He wants to find Oliver, because he and his mother stand to inherit a lot of money. He wants more out of life and, as his half-brother Oliver famously says, "Please. Sir, I want some more," so Monks wants more. This money is how he can get more out of life.
"In a way, Oliver Twist is a story of two brothers, both of whom suffer dreadfully and both of whom are searching for their identity."
"Now, Mr. Bumble was a fat man, and a choleric; so, instead of responding to this open-hearted salutation in a kindred spirit, he gave the little wicket a tremendous shake, and then bestowed upon it a kick which could have emanated from no leg but a beadle's." Oliver Twist, Chapter 2
The parish beadle and a man of words.
Alan Bleasdale on Mrs. Mann and Mr. Bumble: "Dickens has created two brilliant comic characters. I loved the idea of David Ross and Julie Walters playing them, and I wrote very much with them firmly in my mind. They work so well together, and they make me laugh. Dickens understood more than anyone about the need for some light relief from heavy emotions. He taught everybody that."
David Ross plays the parish beadle who christens the newborn Oliver Twist, and has an eye for Mrs. Mann.
Matron of the workhouse. Widow of a sea captain.
Alan Bleasdale made a name change in his adaptation: Mrs. Mann in the television dramatization is based on Mrs. Corney in the novel.
Julie Walters plays workhouse matron Mrs. Mann:
"Mrs. Mann does feel that Mr. Bumble is rather beneath her, but at the same time she has a little bit of lust for him -- so she decides that he'll do, he's better than nothing. But on her wedding day, she overhears him saying that he's not in love with her; he's just after her housekeeping and believes she is lucky to have him. She can't believe it. But she still goes ahead with the wedding. But from then on she makes his life an absolute misery, and he never quite knows why."
"...standing over them, with a toasting-fork in his hand, was a very old shrivelled Jew, whose villanous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair. He was dressed in a greasy flannel gown, with his throat bare..." Oliver Twist, Chapter 8
Fagin, a criminal and a corrupter of young children; one of the most vivid and memorable of any of Dickens's characters.
Bleasdale on Fagin: "In Dickens's novel I was worried by the perhaps accidental anti-Semitism. In our version we see that he is Jewish and he refers to it himself quietly. The fact is that he's an immigrant and the laws of this country at that time, refused to allow Jews to hold property, so often the way they would make a living was either through loans or through criminal actions.
Robert Lindsay, who played Fagin in the hit West End musical of Oliver Twist two years ago, took a new approach to this charismatic character:
"As an immigrant and a criminal, Fagin is part of the underclass in London in the 1830s and as such had to live in the most appalling conditions. He robs, he steals, he trains young boys to be criminals. Fagin does have a moral sense. It is this which makes him so fascinating. This man has a genuine love of children He just loves their innocence, and he is totally fascinated by them. In a way, Fagin is still a child himself. He is not a violent man, and he knows that in order to procure the children, no violence must be used. He treats the boys with great fondness, he entertains them, keeps them warm and protects them, but on the other hand he is using them. That's the strangeness of the moral world that Fagin occupies."
"....a stoutly-built fellow of about five-and-thirty, in a black velveteen coat, very soiled drab breeches, lace-up half boots, and grey cotton stockings, which inclosed a bulky pair of legs, with large swelling calves; -- the kind of legs, which in such costume, always look in an unfinished and incomplete state without a set of fetters to garnish them. He had a brown hat on his head, and a dirty belcher handkerchief round his neck: with the long frayed ends of which he smeared the beer from his face as he spoke. He disclosed, when he had done so, a broad heavy countenance with a beard of three days' growth, and two scowling eyes; one of which displayed various parti-coloured symptoms of having been recently damaged by a blow." Oliver Twist, Chapter 13
A thief and housebreaker; one of Dickens's most menacing characters and a strong force in the novel and all adaptations.
Bleasdale on Sikes: "Everyone is frightened of Bill Sikes, even Fagin, and I wanted to hold onto that presence in the dramatization. He is undeniably brutal, but it's the manner in which the society was. He does have some redeeming features; for instance, at the robbery in the countryside, Sikes could have left Oliver for dead, but he picks him up and runs with him as far as he can. It's not me that's written that; it's Dickens. Bill is more than just an aimless, mindless, violent thug, and I wanted to give him colors. He knows his best years have gone and that he's living on borrowed time. When he murders Nancy, he wakes up in the morning and is horrified and in despair. He knows then that it's the end."
Andy Serkis plays the menacing Bill Sikes, who strikes terror in every one he meets.
"....a couple of young ladies called to see the young gentlemen; one of whom was named Bet, and the other Nancy. They wore a good deal of hair, not very neatly turned up behind, and were rather untidy about the shoes and stockings. They were not exactly pretty, perhaps; but they had a great deal of colour in their faces, and looked quite stout and hearty. Being remarkably free and agreeable in their manners, Oliver thought them very nice girls indeed. As there is no doubt they were." Oliver Twist, Chapter 9
A thief and compatriot of Fagin and Bill Sikes. Alan Bleasdale on Nancy: "... she is strong enough to stand up to Bill, but she does keep returning to the end of his fist, which none of the middle-class characters can understand and, nor in a way, can I. It is unfathomable, but it is unfortunately a fairly common phenomenon. One thing is clear to me: Nancy loves Bill Sikes, and she is not frightened of him. She remains loyal to him and Fagin throughout."
Emily Woof plays the unfortunate Nancy who forms a strong connection with young Oliver and seems to be a force for good in a menacing world:
"The turning point for Nancy is meeting Oliver; she sees this young innocent boy and knows the abuses that lie ahead. Meeting him brings out a natural compassion in her; she tries to protect him from the same fate that befell her. Looking at him, she sees herself at his age, when she, too, was a young innocent and she has now been totally corrupted by the life she's led.
"The flip side to all this is that life with Fagin is often a lot of fun, but her natural intelligence disallows her from being happy with her lot. Nancy wants more from life, but she knows that it's too late for her, so she channels those desires through Oliver."
"The old gentleman was a very respectable-looking personage, with a powdered head and gold spectacles. He was dressed in a bottle-green coat with a black velvet collar; wore white trousers; and carried a smart bamboo cane under his arm." Oliver Twist, Chapter 10
A benevolent man and best friend of Edwin Leeford. Brownlow promises Edwin that he will look after Agnes and the unborn child if anything should happen to him. He is the executor of his will and makes it his business to seek out Edwin's child and to ensure that his best friend's wishes are fulfilled.
Alan Bleasdale on Brownlow: "Along with Monks, Brownlow was one of the characters who fascinated me more than any others. I wanted him to be honorable, decent, generous and good-spirited and liberal for his times. He has no ulterior motive, which often makes people rather suspicious. He genuinely wants to do good and was very enjoyable to write. "
Michael Kitchen plays the charitable Mr. Brownlow. He has worked extensively in film, theatre and television, including many productions that have appeared on Masterpiece Theatre over the years.
"...The curtain at the bed's head was hastily drawn back, and a motherly old lady, very neatly and precisely dressed, rose as she undrew it, from an arm-chair close by, in which she had been sitting at needle-work. "Hush, my dear," said the old lady softly. "You must be very quiet, or you will be ill again..." Oliver Twist, Chapter 12
Mr. Brownlow's aunt and housekeeper
Annette Crosbie, a veteran of both stage and screen, plays Mr. Brownlow's kindly housekeeper:
"Mrs. Bedwin is appalled by the way everyone else treats Oliver, and I empathize with that. I remember reading Oliver Twist when I was young and being put off Dickens for a very long time, because I found it so upsetting. And I still find it upsetting; it is such a tale of child abuse that it is quite blood-curdling, so to play a character who has some kind of decent feelings towards children and ordinary maternal instincts made it more bearable for me. Mrs. Bedwin is an amalgam of many parts in the novel, and she is an antidote to the kinds of grotesques that we tend to associate with Dickens."
Essays + Interviews | Who's Who | Oliver's London | A Dickens Timeline
Teacher's Guide | Novel to Film | A Victorian Twister | The Forum
Links and Bibliography
Home | About The Series | The American Collection | The Archive
Schedule & Season | Feature Library | eNewsletter | Book Club
Learning Resources | Forum | Search | Shop | Feedback
Masterpiece is sponsored by: