Twist: Lena Headey is ruthless. Michael Caine is barely awake

Film review: Sky makes a complete pig’s ear of a street-hustler take on Oliver Twist

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Director: Martin Owen
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Rafferty Law, Michael Caine, Lena Headey, Rita Ora, Sophie Simnett, Noel Clarke, David Walliams
Running Time: 1 hr 34 mins

This is not the first updated, street-hustler take on Oliver Twist. It's not even the first such project called Twist. Back in 2004, Nick Stahl bounced around Toronto in a film even he has probably forgotten. But this Sky production does break some new ground in the field of misguided, Trendy-Vicar down-talking.

Like the cleric of popular legend, it makes a pathetic – if mildly charming – attempt to connect with the kids by flogging them popular culture from a time before they were born. Hey, man. Do you dig “free running” (as I believe you call it), the Zutons and Ocean Colour Scene? If so then Twist is for you. There will be sausage rolls and folk music in the scout hall after service.

The picture stars Raff Law as an orphaned young man who, after apparently growing up in an Alan Parker frozen pea commercial, finds himself adrift in a heightened version of contemporary Whitechapel. The Artful Dodger, now called Dodge, is a wise-cracking Rita Ora. Fagin is that version of Michael Caine, who doesn't have to stand up very much.

Mr Brownlow has had his name borrowed – the roles otherwise barely overlap – for co-producer Noel Clarke's crusading cop. Most intriguingly, Sykes, memorably played by Oliver Reed and Robert Newton in earlier versions, is now a ruthless Lena Headey.


What does that make Nancy? It makes her a bisexual Tanya Burr. The shift looks to have been made merely to accommodate a romantic triangle with Twist. And no, they don't turn Bullseye into a cat.


There is little point moaning about the failure to capture any of original’s underlying menace (some contemporary critics believe Fagin was based on the perpetrators of child sex rings). We can, however, chortle at how feeble Twist is at marking out its own contemporary territory. The art heist is muddled and implausible. David Walliams’s guest turn is so disconnected one wonders if he was included involuntarily in the style of Eddie Murphy’s Bowfinger. The dated ambience calls up thoughts of the 1970s kids show Here Come the Double Deckers.

Dickensians will enjoy dragging out the DiCaprio-pointing-at-the-telly meme when Caine, barely awake in a drab dressing gown, paraphrases a famous line from Fagin’s death cell, but such enthusiasts would be better served having another glance at Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. It is possible to spread diversity across Dickens without making a pig’s ear of the thing.

On Sky Cinema from January 29th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist