Episode two of Masterpiece Classic’s Oliver Twist on PBS concluded last night with a dull thud. It also did not help that it was competing in the same time slot at the 81st Academy Awards ceremony, so viewers like me who taped Oliver watched it after an anti-climatic new and improved Oscars that also left me flat. In my previous comments on episode one, I mentioned that this new adaptation was very dark. I had meant it metaphorically. Now I mean literary. The cinematography was so lacking in light, that too fequently I could decipher little, missing much, and relying entirely on dialogue. The music also got on my nerves and was too discordant. So, we must retrench and try to say something interesting about the conclusion of this new adaptation of Oliver Twist, by focusing instead on a few performances.
Even though the main story revolves around men, I found the women in this production so much more interesting. Sarah Lancashire as Mrs. Corney was the standout of all the actors for me though she had less screen time than any of the male leads. Her interpretation of the callous and mercenary matron of Mudfog workhouse was right on pitch. Mrs. Corny is such a mercurial character calling forth a range of emotions from harpy to conniver that not every actress could pull it off as convincingly as Ms. Lancashire. Bravo.
Also of merit was Morven Christie as beautiful and compassionate Rose, whose concern for Oliver even though others think he is just a con artist was not over dramatic or maudlin. She was most compelling in the scene when Edward pressures her into accepting his marriage proposal. Others may remember her performance as Jane Bingley in the recent miniseries Lost in Austen. Though she made a woefully doe eyed Jane, I appreciated her much more as the fiery Rose.
Of the male leads, Tom Hardy gave us a dementedly scary rendition of the cutthroat thief Bill Sikes that has yet to be matched on screen. His piercing looks said far more than any of Dickens riviting dialogue. Young William Miller was, well cute, but a bit too bland for my taste. My favorite male performance was by far Julian Rhind-Tutt as the conniving Edward/Monks whose simmering anger and hatred gave me chills. A compelling and talented actor, I have followed his career since the 1994 Madness of King George and hope one day to see him in a lead role. A versatile actor, I am convinced that he could play anything superbly from a romantic lead to a villain in contemporary or period fare.
Next up for Masterpiece Classic’s The Tales of Charles Dickens is the encore presentation of David Copperfield (1999), staring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) as the young master Copperfield to be broadcast in March. Check you local listings for dates and times.