ALEC GUINNESS makes one of his finest and most controversial performances as Fagin in David Lean’s classic version of Oliver Twist. Guinness, superb in the role, is near unrecognisable under Stuart Freeborn’s make-up, but it was the combination of these aspects that were to delay the film’s release in America until 1951. In the US the film suffered cuts involving Fagin after mounting concerns from pressure groups that charged the film with fostering anti-Semitism.
Lean succeeded in his goal to make “fantastic larger than life characters fit into a starkly real situation” and was beautifully complemented by John Bryan’s evocative art direction, Margaret Furse’s fine costumes, the monochrome cinematography of Guy Green, as well as an excellent cast. JOHN HOWARD DAVIES makes an exceptional screen debut in the title role, ROBERT NEWTON rampages his way through the role of Bill Sikes, KAY WALSH is impeccable as Nancy, while ANTHONY NEWLEY’s Artful Dodger avoids the over-playing of his later screen performances.
Time described the film as “brilliantly directed… a major creative effort by one of the few directors who have mastered their medium”.
UK / GFD – Cineguild / 116 minutes / 1948 black and white
Writers: David Lean, Stanley Haynes, from the novel by Charles Dickens / Music: Arnold Bax / Cinematography: Guy Green / Production Design: John Bryan / Director: David Lean
Cast: Alec Guinness, Robert Newton, Kay Walsh, John Howard Davies, Francis L Sullivan, Mary Clare, Henry Stephenson, Anthony Newley, Diana Dors