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The pure goodness of the old country woman (Liz Smith) who pities and dotes on the child.
It was Bill Sykes, the cruelest of all Dickens' villains, who meant him harm.
In a movie that is generally faithful to Dickens, despite some smoothing out of the labyrinthine plot, Polanski's key change is to observe that Fagin does not simply exploit the boys; the old man and his pickpockets are struggling together to survive, according to the hard law that society has taught Fagin and he is teaching the boys.
Dickens grew up in a world of workhouses for children, child prostitution, "charity" institutions run with cruelty and greed, schools that taught nothing and were run for profit, and people who preyed on children, starved and mistreated them, and praised themselves for their benevolence.
Those who haven't read Dickens since school, or never, may confuse him with the kindly storyteller of popular image; his works are filled with such fury that he must create a Mr.
Oliver is about 10 when he is taken into the world of Fagin and his young pickpockets, and Polanski was 10 in 1943, when his parents were removed by the Nazis from the Krakow ghetto and he was left on his own, moving from one temporary haven to another in the city and the countryside.
In the black market economy of wartime Poland, he would have met or seen people like Fagin, Bill Sykes, Nancy and the Artful Dodger, resorting to thievery and prostitution to survive.Roman Polanski's "Oliver Twist" and his previous film, "The Pianist," seem to be completely unalike, but I believe they have a deep emotional connection."Oliver Twist" tells the story of an orphan in a dangerous city, whose survival sometimes depends upon those very people who would use him badly.This is not Ye Olde London, but Ye Harrowing London, teeming with life and dispute.The performances are more vivid and edgy than we might suspect; Kingsley's Fagin is infinitely more complex than in the usual versions."The Pianist" is about a Jew who hides himself in Warsaw during the Holocaust, and at a crucial moment is spared by a German soldier.Both Oliver and the pianist do benefit from the kindness of strangers, but the intervention of their captors is crucial.Jamie Foreman's Bill Sykes has a piggish, merciless self-regard.Leanne Rowe, as Nancy, becomes not a device of the plot but a resourceful young woman whose devotion to Bill is outlasted by her essential goodness.Polanski's version never identifies Fagin as Jewish and does not depict him as the usual evil exploiter of young boys.Exploiter, yes, but evil, no: It is likely, as Fagin observes, that he has saved his charges from far worse fates awaiting them in the cruel streets of London, and taught them the skills and cunning to survive.