The latest BBC production of Oliver Twist

I watched the first part of the two-part series last night. Even though Victorian literature is one of my special interests, this adaptation of Dickens’ novel is a struggle for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the atmosphere of the series is monochromatic. Grey, dark grey and darker grey with no respite to build up the tension. The entire thing is funereal. In good drama, as Alfred Hitchcock always maintained, there should be lighter moments so that the suspense becomes even more powerful by contrast. This production lacks moments of levity. Dickens himself was a master of changing moods and I must admit I got tired of the unremitting misery of the whole thing. That was the first reason I didn’t enjoy yesterday’s viewing

The second reason clinched it for me. The biggest problem with this production is that it is difficult to understand the dialogue, especially that of The Artful Dodger, Fagin and Sikes. I can’t imagine that anyone in the U.S or in India will be able to comprehend the dialogue. Pardon my immodesty, but I’m usually quite good at accents and I had trouble understanding 50% of what the characters were saying. There was no problem with understanding Edward Fox as Mr Brownlow or the other people in his household, so it’s probably a dialect thing. I’m just not used to cockney slang, I guess. On the other hand, I don’t have any problems with “Only Fools and Horses” and they don’t speak Oxford English.

Quite frankly, if it weren’t for the fact that I already know the plot of “Oliver Twist” it would have been hard to work out was was going on just by listening to the dialogue.

I wonder, sometimes, why we have to have so many remakes of classics. The other day I watched the latest version of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” which was made a couple of years ago. This version was terrible compared with the Ciaran Hinds one of the Nineties. As for the Keira Knightley version of “Pride and Prejudice” of 2005, what a disappointment compared with the 1995 mini-series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle!

It’s as if every decade or so some producer decides to rehash a version of a beloved classic and he or she gets approval because Austen, Dickens and the Bronte sisters are a popular choice. The problem is that these producers try to put a modern twist on the classic and that really spoils it. A classic is a classic is a classic and should not be messed up by post-modernism or any other fad.

I realise that I’m being harsh about this production’s gloom and doom. After all, “Oliver Twist” is about an orphan and poverty and misery, but perhaps the melancholy violin is weeping a bit too loudly in the background. It’s overdone. What is it they say about less is more?

p.s Am thinking of making a new version of “Great Expectations” starring Tiger Woods as Pip and Amy Winehouse as Estella.

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