From the dark alleys of London, the evergreen fugitive of children's fiction Oliver Twist emerges to haunt movie goers next month. And bringing him to the big screen is none less than Roman Polanski, the fugitive Oscar-winning director of such outstanding films as The Pianist, Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby.
A children's movie from Roman Polanski? Oliver Twist is a movie I would like my children to watch, says Polanski, who did not accept his Oscar statuette at the 2003 Academy Awards in Hollywood since he is wanted in the US since 1977, when he was convicted in absentia on charges of raping Samantha Gailey, a minor. Polanski stays off Britain too, for fear of being extradited to the US from there. The entire movie Oliver Twist was shot in Prague. Polanski also conducted his press conference to announce the movie in the Czech capital.
The Oliver Twist cast has Ben Kingsley as Fagin and Barney Clark as Oliver. According to Polanski, he did not want his Oliver to be the cherubic youngster as the audience would want. But trust Polanski to tug at the audience heart strings with his version of the eternal childhood story of the orphan at the mercy of strangers.
Oliver Twist narrates the story of an orphan boy in 19th century Britain, brought up in a workhouse where such boys were retained. Among other boys, he was lorded over by Mr. Bumble, a parish council official. He was beaten and abused the workhouse, finally leading to his escape from the awful place. He reached London, where he was absorbed by Fagin's criminal gang. The innocent fugitive orphan encounters the criminals of Fagin's gang, like Bill Sikes, Nancy, The Artful Dodger and Monks.
Oliver comes under the shelter of Mr. Brownlow, from where he is kidnapped again by Monks. Nancy tries to help Oliver, but Monks stabs her to death. Oliver Twist ends on a happy note, with the villains at the hands of justice and redemption for the street urchin. Goodness triumphs, and proto-Harry Potter minus the magic finds himself at the hands of kind souls.
Poverty, pain, crime, solitude and joy mark Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. One cannot escape comparisons of Polanski's life with that of Oliver Twist. The vicissitudes of Polanski's life find reflection in his choice of Oliver Twist's theme for his latest movie.
The celebrated winner of Oscar for Pianist, the auteur could not turn up at the Oscars for accepting his prize - the trade-off would have been fifty years in prison. But Polanski does not regret not being in US. Hollywood or the lack of it has done little to the director par excellence, who considers himself more of a European now.
Which he is. Born to a Polish Jew father and a Roman Catholic mother, Roman Polasnki grew up in wartime Europe and was sent to the Jewish ghetto in Krakow. His mother died in the Auschwitz concentration camp run by Nazis, while the son escaped. Later, he was reunited with his father. Having married three times, he has had success only with last. The second had a gruesome end, with his wife and four friends murdered at home while Polanski was away. Polanski later attempted an emotional catharsis with Macbeth.
"After The Pianist, I wanted to do a film that my children could somehow identify with,” says Roman Polasnki. He adds that it was his wife who brought up the idea of filming Oliver Twist.
Polanski's movies so far have been commercial hits as well as critically appreciated.
Recently, Polanski won a case against Vanity Fair, which had misreported that he was dating a Scandinavian beauty immediately after his wife was murdered. Polanski sued the magazine and won the case.
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Barney Clark, Jamie Foreman, Harry Eden, Leanne Rowe, Edward Hardwicke, Jeremy Swift, Mark Strong, Frances Cuka, Chris Overton, Michael Heath, Gillian Hanna, Alun Armstrong, Paul Brooke, Jake Curran, Joseph Tremain, James Babson, Ophelia Lovibond
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Ronald Harwood, Charles Dickens