Director: Renny Rye
Writer(s): Alan Bleasdale, based on the novel by Charles Dickens
Genre: TV Mini-Series, Drama
Filming: Filmed in early 1999 in England and the Czech Republic
Viewing figures: First episode received 8.4m viewers in the UK.
Runtime: 4 episodes, each 2 hours long (including adverts). A shorter, re-edited version, shown in the US, totalled 386 minutes/6 hours.
Based on Charles Dickens’ novel, this adaptation traces the childhood of an orphan whose mother dies giving birth to him in an English work-house in the 1820s. Little Oliver Twist, already abused, starved and overworked, is apprenticed to an undertaker and runs away to London after being bullied by an older apprentice. There, he is taken in by Fagin, a fence and thief-trainer, and his gang of pickpockets. He is befriended by Nancy, a good-hearted prostitute, and meets her lover, the brutal housebreaker Bill Sikes. But attempts by the gang to discredit him result in his being taken in by Mr. Brownlow, a wealthy and charitable man, who proves the catalyst for Oliver’s discovery of his background and identity. Here Alan Bleasdale’s dramatisation differs from Dickens’ novel, in that Oliver does not fall into Brownlow’s hands by coincidence, and we already know his back story: he’s the child of a young woman named Agnes Fleming and her married lover…
Sam Smith … as Oliver Twist
Robert Lindsay … as Fagin
Julie Walters … as Mrs. Mann (Widow Corney)
Michael Kitchen … as Mr. Brownlow
Alun Armstrong … as Captain Fleming
Lindsay Duncan … as Elizabeth Leeford
David Ross … as Mr. Bumble
Andy Serkis … as Bill Sykes
Tim Dutton … as Edwin Leeford
Marc Warren … as Monks (Edward Leeford)
Annette Crosbie … as Mrs. Bedwin
Emily Woof … as Nancy
Sophia Myles … as Agnes Fleming
Keira Knightley … as Rose Maylie (Fleming)
UK – Aired weekly on ITV from November 28th 1999 – December 19th 1999
US – Was broadcast on PBS in October 2000
“…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
Isla appears in episodes 2, 3 and 4 of the series, playing a friend and fellow prostitute of Nancy. In the episode 2, ‘Containing Fresh Discoveries, and Shewing That Surprises, Like Misfortunes, Seldom Come Alone’, are seen at a pub with men, before later going to Fagin’s Den where they meet and coo over Oliver. Later that night, Fagin gives Bet money to go and get a drink whilst he talks to Nancy. In episode 3, titled ‘Wherein Oliver Is Educated by His Friend Fagin and Delivered Over to Mr. William Sikes’, we once again see Bet be dismissed by Fagin so he can speak to Nancy alone. Bet looks hesitant to leave her friend alone, but knows better than to try to stay. The the 4th and final episode, ‘In Which All Is Revealed…’, Bet goes to Nancy’s room, only to find her lying dead on the floor, murdered by Bill Sykes. Bet runs to the window to alert people that there has been a murder.
• The series is not “strictly faithful” to the novel, which broadcaster ITV described as “challenging” and “a big commitment for viewers”. The first two episodes focus on the backstory of Oliver Twist, and he is not even born until the last minutes of the first episodes.
• The show was originally aired as a long serial, but was later re-edited for a shorter run. The original edit can be found on the DVD.
• Was nominated for BAFTA Awards in 2000 for Best Costume Design, Best Make Up/Hair and Best Original Television Music.
– Isla Fisher: “It’s only a small role but I feel honoured to be doing Dickens. I spend my time on set head to toe in dirt, with make-up to make my teeth look rotten.”
– Nancy: “How old are ya?”
– Oliver Twist: “Nine, miss.”
– Nancy: “He called me miss! Aw I’m gonna like this one, I know I am!”
– Bet: “Hey call me miss! Go on, say it – Miss Bet.”
– Oliver Twist: “Miss, Miss Bet.”
– Bet: “Noooooooo! There’s been a murder!”
Isla is not featured much in this series and barely has any lines. However, it is a career ‘milestone’ of sorts as this was a much talked about and relatively ‘big budget’ TV adaptation of a literary classic.
Isla talked about this project in an interview with the Glasgow Sunday Mail in July 1999, but did no further promotion for it.
• Isla Fisher Web‘s Press page (related: 1999 interviews)
News & Updates for Oliver Twist at Isla Fisher Web