‘Oliver Twist’ revisited: A look back at ITV’s mini-series adaptation from 1999

Oliver Twist has been adapted on screen more than 25 times now.

Here our guest writer Ann Philippas will take a look back at ITV’s 1999 adaptation

Having worked as a Volunteer Floor Steward at the Charles Dickens Museum in Russell Square in the past, I have decided to base my article on ITV’s Oliver Twist mini-series from 1999, directed by Renny Rye and written and produced by Alan Bleasdale.

The series consists of four 90-minute-long episodes and I don’t believe it ever received the credit it was due.

What makes it so unique is not only its colour, style and humour but also its terrific all-star cast. Robert Lindsay (Ben Harper from My Family) is the avaricious Fagin, Julie Walters is Mrs Mann, a young Keira Knightley is Rose Fleming (Oliver’s aunt), Andy Serkis is Bill Sykes, and Emily Woof is Nancy.

Sam Smith (not the singer!) plays the sweet and innocent Oliver Twist, the world-renowned orphan who asked for more.

The series dedicates the whole of its first episode to Oliver’s history and the events prior to his birth. We find out that his rather feckless (though ultimately well-meaning) father, Mr Edwin Leeford, was already secretly married to another woman at the time when Oliver was conceived; we are given an insight into the trouble that all this went on to cause, as well as a glimpse at the wonderfully wealthy life the unfortunate orphan might have led from the beginning if all had gone to plan.

One of my undoubtedly favourite characters in the series is played by Van der Valk star Marc Warren – who in the 2006 film Dracula incidentally played the infamous vampire alongside Sophia Myles (here appearing as Oliver’s mother, Agnes Fleming) – in which he showed her rather less mercy than he does as Edward Leeford, Oliver’s wretched elder half-brother (also known as Monks).

Warren’s performance as Monks won him a Royal Television Society Award in 2000. You can’t help but feel sorry for Edward, neglected and detested as he has been all his life by his absent father and perfect monster of a mother (Lindsay Duncan). He is pitiable, endearing and comical and he has a secret which is a real physical strain on him.

Though nowhere near as ruthless as his mother, he does succeed in making his estranged little brother’s life difficult for him from behind the scenes; his excuse is that he too wants “more”, though in his case the end does not quite justify the means.

Other familiar faces in the cast include Michael Kitchen (Foyle’s War), Alun Armstrong (New Tricks), Annette Crosbie (One Foot in the Grave), and Roger Lloyd-Pack (The Vicar of Dibley).

I would highly recommend this enchanting and captivating series to everyone. Please be sure to go and visit the Museum/house when you get the chance, as it really is well-worth a visit – it even has a bathtub similar to the one Oliver washes in at Mr Brownlow’s house!

I was given the opportunity of writing another article whilst volunteering there at the time, about a rather prolonged, unfortunate visit Charles Dickens’ friend Hans Christian Andersen once paid him at one of his homes.

ITV’s 1999 adaptation of Oliver Twist is available on DVD on Amazon.