There’s still a few months to go before the new line up of films kicks off on Sky Cinema. Most were destined for cinema releases and appear to offer more variety than their current slate of re-worked classics, an apparently easy option to attract ratings which didn’t live up to its promise: Five Kids And It and The Secret Garden both disappointed, pointing to a need for a shake-up. But the arrival of Twist shows it isn’t simply a need. It’s a must.
You’re allowed just one guess as to the classic they’ve taken on this time. This latest version of the Dickens novel retains its London setting, some of the characters’ names and a small helping of the plot. After that, it’s all over the place. Orphaned Ollie Twist (Raff Law) is a street artist who makes friends with Dodge (the ubiquitous Rita Ora) and Batesy (Franz Drameh), members of a teenage gang presided over by the elderly Fagin (Michael Caine). Free clothes, food and somewhere seemingly safe to live are too tempting and Ollie joins the gang, getting himself embroiled in a ruse to rid creepy art dealer Losberne (David Walliams) of his prize art works. Fagin, however, has a personal interest in the scheme, as does the sinister Sikes (Lena Headey).
As an attempt to update a literary favourite, Twist falls short in just about every department. The Dickens original had its shortcomings – his over-romanticising of Nancy to suit the conventions of the day – but the characters, the social commentary and the strength of the narrative all made up for that. And more. This time round, writers Sally Collett, Tom Grass and Kevin Lehane have taken precious few elements of the original and added a bucket of liberties. You can almost hear the dialogue creaking, despite the efforts of the game young cast, in what turns out to be little more than an art heist movie with added parkour.
There’s some showy camerawork from Havard Helle, concentrating on the coldly lit city skyline and reflecting the streetwise soundtrack, but it doesn’t come close to lifting this attempt at a teenage crime caper. The members of the gang are almost indistinguishable, although Raff Law makes a decent stab at the role of Ollie, but playing Fagin isn’t exactly Michael Caine’s finest hour. It’s left to Lena Headey to provide some energy and she has fun as a badass Sikes, leaving us wanting more.
Updating such a classic with the reputation of Oliver Twist is no safe option. It’s as risky as they come and to stand any chance of success, it needed to offer something striking, different but respectful of its source. Expectations are raised and come crashing down to earth in the first five minutes. And respect is simply nowhere to be seen. Dickens deserves better than this. So do we. It was made in 1948 by David Lean and it’s never been bettered.
Drama, Crime | Cert: 12 | Sky Cinema | | 29 January 2021 | Dir. Martin Owen | Raff Law, Rita Ora, Lena Headey, Michael Caine, David Walliams