Oliver Twist (1999 miniseries)

Oliver Twist

DVD cover
Based on Oliver Twist
by Charles Dickens
Written by Alan Bleasdale
Directed by Renny Rye
Theme music composer Paul Pritchard
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 4
Producer(s) Keith Thompson
Cinematography Walter McGill
Running time 386 minutes
Original network ITV1
Original release 28 November – 19 December 1999

Oliver Twist is a 1999 television miniseries produced by ITV based on the book Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.[1]


The first episode revolved around Oliver's parents (Agnes Fleming and Edwin Leeford) as they struggled to fight their love for each other. Edwin struggled with his estranged wife Elizabeth Leeford, mother of his son Edward Leeford (later also "Monks"), and Agnes struggled with her family's life. When it came to them both being together, Elizabeth murdered Edwin and planned on murdering Agnes. She made Monks kill her, but Agnes ran away; her sister Rose (Keira Knightley) witnessed this and was left traumatized. Agnes was pregnant with Oliver when she ran away. She ran into the main streets of London and collapsed; she was then taken into the workhouse where she gave birth, and she died shortly after.

Once he reached nine years of age, Oliver was taken to a different sort of workhouse where he was abused and tortured. The boys of the workhouse pulled straws to decide which of them should try asking for more food; Oliver got the short straw. He was then sold to Mr Sowerberry, after Mr Bumble beat him. Most of Mr Sowerberry's family abused Oliver as well. When Noah Claypole insulted Oliver's mother he lost control and ran away. Monks, who was aware that Oliver was alive, arranged for Fagin to take the boy in and train him as a pick-pocket. Oliver was taken by the Artful Dodger and taken to Fagin. Oliver believed Fagin to be a magician as he knew his name straight away. Monks arrived and began having a fit when Oliver was asleep, shortly after he told Fagin that he wanted Oliver to be disgraced in public. Fagin set up Oliver to get caught pick pocketing by Mr Brownlow. Dodger, Oliver and Charley (a newcomer to the story) stole from Mr Brownlow, the Dodger pushed Oliver into him and the street thought Oliver was guilty. Before the trial, Oliver was badly beaten and when he came to the trial the drunken magistrate. During the trial, the owner of the book store reveals that it wasn't Oliver who stole the book. The charges are dropped and Oliver is thrown out onto the streets.

Mr Brownlow takes Oliver in and Oliver lives with him and Mrs Bedwin, unaware that Mr Brownlow was very close to his mother and father. Nancy (Emily Woof) is forced to bring Oliver back by Fagin and Bill (Andy Serkis). She does so, despite Oliver's best attempts to run away. Mr Brownlow later shows hostility towards Mrs Bedwin and sends her to another house down South. Oliver is taken back to Fagin's hideout and the gang strips him of his clothes and take the books and money he was given to return by Brownlow. Bill Sykes then comes up with a plan to steal money from a house down south, it's actually the house in which Mrs Bedwin is now living.

Agnes' sister Rose is also living there too. Oliver, Bill and one of Fagin's thugs break in and Oliver is shot by the guards. Oliver is dumped in a ditch by Bill. Fagin then informs Monks who loses his temper unaware that Nancy is listening outside the door. Oliver is found by Mrs Bedwin, Rose and the guards and taken in. Mr Brownlow arrives to apologise to Mrs Bedwin, they make up and Mr Brownlow learns what happened to Oliver. Fagin and Monks head to find if Oliver is still alive, when they arrive Oliver sees Fagin and Rose sees Monks, who she saw years ago trying to kill her sister.

When Fagin learns that Brownlow is looking for him, he tells his gangs to scatter. Meanwhile, Mr Brownlow and the others move back to London to continue their search. Rose tells Mr Brownlow about her nightmares of Agnes' attacker and her vows to find him. Nancy heads to Brownlow's house to tell him what she heard between Monks and Fagin. Fagin is already aware of her deceit and send Dodger and Charley to spy on her. Dodger returns and Fagin tells Bill. Elizabeth (Monks' mother) dies of a heart attack and Monks means to end his quest to have Oliver convicted. He is arrested afterwards, though. by Brownlow and his guards. Bill returns to Nancy and kills her. She is found by Charley and one of Nancy's friends. A manhunt begins for Bill.

Fagin begins to lose control of the situation and is forced to change his looks in order not to be captured. Bill is cornered when an army of London men and women plan to kill him, he leads them up to Fagin's new quarters and the pair plan an escape. They both make their way up on the rooftop. Fagin pretends that Bill has kidnapped him and Bill loses his balance and falls off the building to his death. Fagin is mistaken for a humble victim. Oliver recognises Fagin and he is arrested by the police. Oliver and Brownlow visit Fagin in prison to find out about a letter which Monks gave Fagin. Fagin tells Oliver where it is.

Whilst in prison, Fagin shows signs of becoming insane as he talks to himself and is constantly forgetting he's in prison. Brownlow and Oliver find the letter which was made by Oliver's father to his mother. Brownlow reads the letter. Monks tells Brownlow and Oliver about the horrible childhood he has had and promises to change his ways, Brownlow frees him and allows him to go down South. Years later, Monks is married and expecting a baby and Rose marries the man of her dreams - Doctor Losberne (David Bark-Jones). Oliver is present at the wedding as the series draws to a close.



The adaptation, by Alan Bleasdale, attracted controversy, particularly for the decision to begin with two hours of backstory (much of it invented by Bleasdale) before reaching the plot of the novel. Furthermore, Bleasdale altered well-known sections of the novel, so that although the basic idea is the same, almost every detail is changed enough so that the miniseries plays like an original story, not an adaptation. Monks, who is made an out-and-out murderer in this miniseries (he kills his father), is nevertheless changed from a completely irredeemable and evil villain to someone who reforms to the point of getting married and starting a family.[2]

Home media

On 27 March 2000 ITV released a double box set VHS of the adaption. It was co-owned by the TV and movie company Carlton. Then on 16 October 2006 ITV re-released it on DVD. The VHS version remains a "collectors item" as it is almost impossible to find one now that the DVD version has been released and new VHS tapes are no longer being manufactured.


  1. Paul Schultz (8 October 2000). "Masterful Twist". New York Daily News. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
  2. Neil Genzlinger (October 7, 2000). "Oliver Gets Much More But Not in a Cereal Dish". New York Times. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
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