I’m not entirely sure what happened. I checked out PBS.org and I could have sworn it said that Oliver Twist was airing last night and next Sunday, so in an effort to keep myself sane and ensure and early bedtime, I scrambled around until I found this version of Oliver online and I went ahead and recapped part one. Then I tuned into PBS later and…it was some Downton Abbey nonsense. Look, I like Downton just fine, but it’s over now, and I think it’s time to move on. Enough with the endless “behind the scenes” specials, ok? I’ve readjusted my brain to Dickens month now, so stop jerking me around my time periods, PBS! Anyway, the recap was already done, so I figured, eh, screw it, I’m posting it anyway. No way I’m flushing a couple hours worth of work on a Sunday down the drain. So, here it is, and you’ll get part II next week, because now I’m just operating on my own schedule.
Like all the Dickens adaptations this year, this one starts out in gloom and misery. A young woman in distress rings the bell at some workhouse and begs to be admitted. Someone comes out and helps her inside, where she gives birth to a baby and then takes a really bad turn. One of the other workers notices a locket on the young mother, and once her rather hardened superior leaves, the mother rallies and asks to see the baby. Nice Lady brings him over and mother smiles and realizes she’s dying. She begs Nice Lady to send a letter she has on her, and though Nice Lady’s reluctant, you know she will, or she’ll hold onto it and reappear at some randomly opportune moment. Mother expires and Nice Lady takes the locket, watching it twist in the flickering light.
The music gets all goofy as we see the seedy underbelly of Victorian London come to life while at Mudfog Workhouse 10 years later young Oliver toils away at…unwinding rope? I have no idea. The man in charge, Mr. Bumble, whose outfit must have been really exactly described in the books, because he always looks the same, comes by and cuffs Oliver, who warns another kid not to try and eat the rope, no matter how hungry he is. The kid does it anyway and is caught and dragged away by Mr. Bumble.
Lunchtime! We’ve all seen this scene, so I’ll keep it short: Oliver’s starvey and mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore, especially once he spots the black and blue marks on his friend from earlier. So, he takes a stand and asks for more. And this tapping into his inner Norma Rae does not go over well.
Bumble takes him to the people in charge, who are feasting away in the most ostentatious manner possible. It’s like watching a Victorian version of The Hunger Games. Oliver digs his grave a little deeper by bringing up his little friend from earlier, saying he wouldn’t have tried to eat the rope if he’d had a decent meal. This seems like news to the people currently digging into an entire roast pig. One of them tells Oliver that God sees what he’s doing, and Oliver warns him that God sees them too. They all agree that this is bad blood showing itself and they tell Oliver to apologize to them. Oliver refuses, so they tell Bumble to get rid of him, because someday, he’ll just get himself into trouble and be hanged.
Bumble offers Oliver for sale for 5 guineas and the local undertaker starts to haggle for him. The kid’s handed over for 2 guineas and Nice Lady watches as he trudges away with his new owner.
At the funeral home, the undertaker, Sowerberry, observes that the kid has a melancholy aspect and will be good for business. His wife’s a harridan, of course, because it wouldn’t be a Dickens story without a horrible, horrible wife, would it? She goes on and on about her hats, for some reason, and I really don’t care. She tells Oliver he’ll sleep in the workshop and eat the scraps, and furthermore he has to be scrubbed by the maid for fleas.
That night, the apprentice (I guess) tries to scare Oliver by telling him the dead come back to life at night, but at least Oliver has the dog to keep him company that night. Apprentice (Noah) sneaks up on Oliver that night and reminds him that he’s at the bottom of the totem pole, like Oliver’s not used to that.
Later, Charlotte the Maid and Noah are abusing Oliver when in comes Missus, wearing the stupidest hat imaginable. She grabs Charlotte, and when they’re alone, Oliver asks Noah to just leave him alone, which Noah won’t do, because he’s a dick. Noah essentially calls Oliver’s mom a prostitute, which works out for him as well as it did for Limbaugh, because Oliver beats the crap out of this douchebag until the Missus intervenes and punishes Oliver by locking him in a coffin. Bumble’s fetched and arrives just as Sowerberry returns home. Bumble says they’re feeding Oliver too well, though Sowerberry’s pretty chill about all this. Bumble promises to beat Oliver senseless, but as soon as they lift the coffin lid, Oliver, no idiot, makes a break for it and manages to escape, even crushing that awful hat in the process. Oliver runs off through the countryside, passing a sign that says London’s 70 miles away. Eh, what’s 70 miles?
Having virtually no practical survival skills, it’s not long before Oliver’s looking fatigued and more than a little hungry. Still, he’s got his wits about him and hides as a carriage goes streaking down the road. The faceless man inside crosses a name off a list and is next seen in Bumble’s office, asking about any babies born there about 10 or so years ago. Bumble said there was one, born to an Agnes Liefert. The bitchier lady in charge goes to fetch Nice Lady, who claims not to remember anything. She’s also coughing, so now we know she’s not long for this world. Mean Lady says the kid’s since run away and Bumble says the kid was a violent, crazy lad. The man tosses some coins on the table for their trouble, and the way he does so pretty clearly conveys his contempt for these two.
Oliver’s back on the road in all weather, trudging, trudging until his shoes give out and he tosses them aside. Still, he finally makes it to the metropolis and wanders amongst the crowds, looking lost and uncertain. He finally sinks down to cry next to a wall and is found by Dodger, who’s a couple of years older and asks Oliver what his racket is. Oliver doesn’t know what he’s talking about and tries to escape, but Dodger’s still on him and realizes this kid’s no threat to him. They introduce themselves and Dodger offers him a place to stay, taking him to Fagin’s lair, which is literally crawling with kids, all of whom gather to eye the newcomer. Finally, Fagin turns from the fire with some sizzling sausages and really bad extensions and the creepiest smile, which would have sent any sensible person running screaming for the hills. Not Oliver, though, because, well, sausages. God knows the last time this kid ate.
Soon everyone’s tucking into sausages—well, everyone except for Oliver, who actually doesn’t know what to do with a sausage. He asks why Fagin doesn’t eat them and Dodger says they aren’t kosher. Ahh, yes, I’d forgotten about the anti-Semitic angle to this. I think a lot of versions leave that out. Oliver digs into his sausage, grinning happily. Dodger starts calling him Ollie and introduces the other kids.
There’s a knock on the door and one of the kids announces Nancy, who comes in with a smile and a kind word for one of the kids. She’s also got some fancy silver pieces for Fagin. While he goes off to stash them, she joins the kids, ribs Dodger a bit, and asks who Oliver is. He introduces himself, and Oliver politely offers her his seat, calling her Miss and totally throwing her off kilter. She calls him a bit of a gent, and Fagin returns and underpays her for her loot, saying they’re all nickel. She accepts the payment nonetheless, says goodbye to the boys, and takes off.
That night, Oliver’s woken by a ruckus outside. He peeks through the window and sees a man threatening Fagin while Nancy tries to talk the guy—Bill—down. Bill finally lets Fagin go and Nancy tends to him. Bill turns and catches sight of Oliver, threatening to put his eyes out if he keeps staring. Bill’s played by Tom Hardy, back before he got pretty famous and started making Reese Witherspoon movies. Nancy tells Oliver there’s nothing to worry about, they’re just playing a game. Nancy tells him Oliver’s a newbie, but Bill’s such a creepster he makes Fagin look like Santa Claus. He tells Oliver he never saw anything, and Oliver agrees, so Bill leaves. Once he’s gone, Oliver asks Fagin if he’s really ok, and Fagin urges him to go back to sleep, rubbing his sore, throttled neck.
Next day, Fagin cooks up some breakfast when Oliver appears in his new beggar getup. He admires the handkerchiefs that are hanging up and Fagin gives him one and starts to slowly explain how they put food on the table at Fagin’s place.
Later, Fagin goes out and gets some info on Oliver from Dodger, who tells him Oliver should be just fine, as long as nobody mentions his dead mum. Chez Lost Boys, Oliver’s training begins, courtesy of the Dodger. They make their way to a nicer part of town, where to be honest, they stick out like sore thumbs in their ratty clothes. Dodger IDs a mark looking at some books, walks over, and manages to lift the man’s wallet. But then the man turns around and raises the alarm. Since Oliver’s closer, the constables chase him down, despite the older man’s protestations. We get a merry chase through London, until three constables catch Oliver. Nice going, Dodger.
Fagin’s pissed. And frankly, Bill’s not too happy either. He tells Fagin he’s got to get down to the court, because if Oliver starts talking, they’re in a whole heap of trouble. Fagin leaves, and Bill punches Dodger out cold.
Oliver’s dragged in front of a judge who’s a little too fond of transporting criminals to the colonies. The elderly man is there as well, as is a man whose face we can’t see, beyond a port wine birthmark on one cheek. Oliver protests his innocence but refuses to squeal on Dodger, so the judge just decides to hang him. Uh, ok, what a psycho this judge is. The old gentleman presents himself and says they have wrong kid. The judge doesn’t care, because he’s got some punishing to do. Oliver passes out as the sentence is read.
He eventually comes to and sees kindly female faces hovering over him. He asks them if he’s dead and the younger woman reassures him he’s alive and safe. The other woman’s Mrs. Bedouin, the housekeeper or maid or something of the older gentleman. Later, older gentleman asks how the kid is, as Mrs. B brings in dinner. She says Oliver’s improving and has quite an appetite. The younger woman addresses OG as “uncle” and excuses herself to go up and goes up to help Oliver. She’s struck by the sight of lash marks across his back, which Oliver shrugs off as he starts to put on a shirt Mrs. B found for him.
Once he’s dressed, the ladies bring him down to see OG, who says he’s happy to see Oliver looking better. Oliver thanks him for speaking on his behalf and OG says it was nothing before dismissing Oliver and Mrs. B. Oliver asks Mrs. B if OG is cross with him and she says he’s not (also, OG finally gets a name—Mr. Brownlowe). She says he’s not cross, that’s just his way, and he used to be perkier before there was a tragedy that changed him forever. Oliver asks what the tragedy was and Mrs. B says it was love that really didn’t work out well.
The young lady, Rose, checks to make sure her uncle (who’s actually her guardian) is out before she sits down to play the piano, with Oliver at her side. She mentions a sister but is evasive when Oliver asks about her. Downstairs, Brownlowe returns home, hears the piano, and listens sadly for a bit. Mrs. B sees him in the hall and offers to get them to stop, but he asks her not to.
Chez Lost Boys. Fagin tells Nancy they have to get Oliver back, in case he squeals at some point in the future. Nancy doesn’t want to, because the kid’s in a good situation, but Bill threatens to give her a beating if she doesn’t do as she’s told.
At the Brownlowes’, Oliver receives a mysterious letter urging him to come meet with someone and learn more about his mother. As he’s reading it, Brownlowe realizes he accidentally rushed off with a book the day Oliver was arrested, and he never paid for it. Oliver offers to go take the payment, as an excuse to get out of the house. Brownlowe agrees and runs into Nancy in the street. She fawns all over him, then gets scarily intense and tells him he has to come with her. She leads him around the corner, where he’s snatched by Bill and Fagin. Bill’s happy to find the cash in Oliver’s pocket, though Fagin and Nancy look kind of sickened by this. Fagin pulls himself together enough to lock Oliver in a cell and reassure Bill the kid’ll tire himself out soon enough.
Oliver probably pounds his fists bloody on the door before sitting down on the pile of filthy pillows in the corner and tearing up the letter.
At the Brownlowes’, Mr. B and Rose pace and look worried until Mrs. B shows up and says Oliver never made it to the bookseller’s. Brownlowe immediately assumes that Oliver just took off with the money, instead of, you know, assuming he either met with an accident or got snatched off the street. Mr. B’s a bit too eager to expect the worst of people I think.
That night, Oliver’s passed out, dead to the world, as Fagin meets with a mysterious visitor—the man with the port wine birthmark. He asks Birthmark what he wants to do with Oliver and Port Wine says he wants him dead and wiped off the face of the earth. Ok, then.
Jaunty music plays as Dodger wanders around the city, stealing bread and the like. He slips some to Oliver in his cell, which Oliver refuses to eat, and then peeks in on him.
Fagin meets Port Wine—Mr. Monks—at the waterfront so they can more freely discuss child murder.
At the Brownlowe household, Mrs. B observes that the tablecloth is frayed and they need some shopping done. Rose is clever enough to see what’s going on and asks to go along. Mr. B’s fine with it.
At the docks, Fagin asks why Monks wants the kid dead, but Monks isn’t sharing any info. He asks Fagin to make sure Oliver’s caught in a crime that’ll guarantee death. Fagin extorts some extra money for such a difficult task and Monks promises to send more of this kind of work his way. What the hell kind of business is Monks in?
Dodger’s still trying to get Oliver to eat, but Oliver won’t budge, even when Dodger apologizes for letting him get pinched. Oliver shouts that the nice people will think he’s a thief and Dodger says they won’t even notice the money’s gone, because they’re rich and what do they care? They won’t really notice Oliver’s gone either, after a while. Oliver finally takes the food and starts to eat, but when Dodger says he’s back where he belongs, with the others, Oliver angrily throws the plate at the door.
At the Brownlowes’, Mr. B sits at the piano, but finds himself unable to play. And who should show up for a visit, but Monks, who greets him as “grandfather.” Oh, great.
Fagin sings a bit and talks to himself about not trusting a goyem. He wonders aloud why a man of means would want some workhouse kid to hang. He guesses that, if Monks will pay lots of money to off Oliver, someone else will pay a bundle to save him.
Brownlowe and Monks are having a visit, and Monks is telling him he got info on “their search”, which turned out to be nothing. He’s worried about the effect this search is having on grandpa’s health, but grandpa wants to keep going. Monks promises that they will find Agnes and her kid and grandpa smiles and says how proud he is of Monks, and how proud Monks’s dad would have been.
Back at the workhouse, the slop’s being handed out as usual, as Bumble observes.
Meanwhile, Fagin makes his way to Oliver’s cell and finds not Oliver inside but Dodger, who tells him that Bill shut him in and took Oliver. Bill himself suddenly appears, because I guess he has nothing else to do but hang around waiting for Fagin to show up.
Bill and Fagin go to a pub for drinks and to talk about Oliver. Bill wants to know what Fagin has going on but Fagin claims there’s nothing happening. Bill’s not stupid enough to buy that and asks if it’s fine with Fagin for him to use Oliver for a little job. Dodger—who’s been released—offers to go in Oliver’s place but Bill ignores him and Fagin realizes he’s backed into a bit of a corner. He agrees to lend the kid to Bill, but asks to speak with him first. Bill downs his drink and leads Fagin to Oliver’s new hiding place.
Rose and Mrs. B are, rather foolishly, in a rough part of town, on their own, asking perfect strangers if they’ve seen a boy. That is such a good way to get yourself in some awful, awful trouble, Rose. They have no luck.
At Bill’s, Fagin asks what happened to Oliver’s jacket and boots while Nancy drapes herself drunkenly across the mantelpiece. Fagin asks Oliver if he’s ok and Bill says he’s fine, but Oliver’s not saying a word. Bill marvels that Oliver’s not even scared of him and Oliver contemptuously says he’s seen worse than Bill. Nancy tells him to leave the kid alone. Bill goes to take a nap and warns Nancy not to drink so much she passes out. When he’s gone. Fagin urgently tells Oliver to do exactly what Bill says when they go out together that night. He leaves and Nancy steps in, apologizing for taking Oliver away. He forgives her.
Rose and Mrs. B return home, having not found Oliver but gotten plenty grubby in the process. At the top of the stairs, Rose runs into Monks and she lies that she was out walking in the park. He reminds her that she didn’t ask if his trip yielded any information of her sister’s whereabouts and tells her that he didn’t actually find anything out.
That night, Nancy returns home with a pie for Oliver to eat.
At the Brownlowes’ for dinner, Mr. B asks Rose what she bought for herself. She says she saw some lace she liked but couldn’t make up her mind, so she’ll go back tomorrow. Monks offers to go with her, in a slightly flirty manner, and she manages to put him off by, basically, saying she has to go buy underwear and it wouldn’t be seemly for her to do so with him there.
Nancy asks Oliver why he took against Dodger and Oliver says it’s because he thought Dodger was his friend, but then Dodger told the others about his love for his mother. Nancy admits she never knew her mother either, but she never wanted to anyway. Nancy figures Oliver’s mom was lovely and gentle and she’s looking down on him right now. Before going to wake Bill, Nancy tells Oliver that Bill’s not so bad, and the kid just needs to do exactly what Bill says.
At the workhouse, Nice Lady’s got TB, but of course they’re not willing to call a doctor for her. Mean Lady and Bumble then have a weird, flirty moment in the corridor. Thanks for that, show.
At Fagin’s, Dodger’s bitching about Oliver being taken along with Bill instead of him, but Fagin shouts at him to be quiet.
Bill, meanwhile, is taking Oliver to a grand house he clearly intends to rob while Nancy drinks back at home. At the Brownlowes’, Rose embroiders while grandpa reads and Monks eyes her creepily.
At the grand house, Bill helps Oliver slip through a window and tells him to open the front door so Bill can get in.
Workhouse. Nice Lady wants to make a confession to one of the other maids. She mentions a locket and Oliver’s name.
Oliver wanders through the grand home, making his way toward the front door. He starts to unlock it as someone makes their way downstairs. Bill steals in and is confronted by a proprietor with a gun which he wastes no time discharging—right into Oliver, if the kid’s shrieks are any indication.