In 2002, Roman Polanski released his award-winning film of "The Pianist," an amazing story of suffering and pain in the Warsaw ghetto of World War II. It is also a story of survival.
When Polanski completed "The Pianist" - which was a very personal film for him because of his childhood in wartime Poland - he was determined to make a totally different type of movie. He wanted to make a family film aimed, in particular, at a young audience. Towards this end, he and his producing partners, Robert Benmussa and Alain Sarde, began to read scores of children's books looking for the right story.
Eventually, it was Polanski's wife who came up with the suggestion to make a new version of OLIVER TWIST. Polanski quickly discovered that the real Dickens story hadn't been told on film since David Lean's version in 1948 and Carol Reed's musical "Oliver!" 20 years later - nearly 40 years and two generations ago. The time was right.
Charles Dickens' classic story of a young orphan boy who gets involved with a gang of boy pickpockets in 19thCentury London seems, on the surface, a long way from being children's entertainment. But this can be deceiving.
Roman Polanski is convinced that kids will love the fantasy elements contained within the story. He says: "We are not going to strive for realism, quite the opposite. The characters in this story are larger-than-life with the emphasis on their glorious humour and eccentricities. This is a Dickensian tale in the truest sense, which means it is exuberant, intriguing and timeless. And it is full of incident that is constantly surprising.
"Above all it is a tale for a young audience. My ambition is to make the film for my own children. I read bedtime stories to them every night and I know what enchants them and how they identify with the characters. In making OLIVER TWIST it is important I don't disappoint them."
After an extensive search, Polanski chose 11-year-old London schoolboy Barney Clark in the all-important title role. A student of The Anna Scher Theatre, a world-renown community theatre in Islington, London, Barney has previously appeared in the film "The Lawless Heart," the British wartime television drama "Foyle's War" and the television Court drama "The Brief".
With Sir Ben Kingsley as Fagin, a host of talented British character actors have been cast to play some of literature's best known characters: Jamie Foreman is Bill Sykes, Leanne Rowe is Nancy, Edward Hardwicke is Mr Brownlow, Jeremy Swift is Mr Bumble, the Beadle, Frances Cuka is Mrs Bedwin, Michael Heath and Gillian Hanna are Mr and Mrs Sowerberry, Alun Armstrong is Mr Fang, Andy De La Tour is the Workhouse Master with Peter Copley as his assistant, Liz Smith plays an old cottage woman and Mark Strong plays Toby Crackit.
Among the boys, Harry Eden plays the Artful Dodger, Lewis Chase plays Charley Bates, Jake Curran plays Barney and Chris Overton plays Noah Claypole.
The very experienced crew, most of who worked with Polanski on "The Pianist," include director of photography Pawel Edelman, production designer Allan Starski, costume designer Anna Sheppard and editor Herve de Luze.
Directed by Roman Polanski from a screenplay by Ronald Harwood, the film is produced by Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde and Roman Polanski. An independent co-production by RPFilms of France, Runteam II Ltd of the UK and Etic Films sro of the Czech Republic, "OLIVER TWIST" started principal photography at Prague's Barrandov Studio in July, 2004 and is scheduled to complete filming at the end of October.
Co-produced by Timothy Burrill (UK) and Petr Moravec (Cz), the film will be distributed in America and Canada by Tri-Star Pictures and territory by territory in the rest of the world.
When Oliver Twist first began in serialized form in the monthly magazine Bentley's Miscellany in 1837, its subtitle was "The Parish Boy's Progress." For the first few instalments, Dickens' intention was to describe for his readers what it was like to be a "parish boy" in the years following the passing of the new Poor Law Act of 1834. Dickens would have seen the bill being hotly debated when he was a parliamentary reporter for the Morning Chronicle, and he would continue to attack it in his fiction and journalism for the rest of his life.
Prior to 1834, poor workers were given a tiny sum, or "dole," by their parish to keep them from starvation on their fixed agricultural wages. It was intended as emergency funds to tide people over until they could get on their feet again. The infirm and unemployable were also the responsibility of each parish. While there were many problems in the old system that the new legislation was intended to redress, many people felt that the cure was much worse than the disease. The new act, designed to prevent idle people from living off the community, grouped parishes together into "poor law unions" and established "workhouses" (which became known as "unions"); here, people with no other home or means of support were housed and put to work for the parish.