From Book to Film: A Review of a Film Adaptation of “Oliver Twist.”


Many of you brilliant ones have certainly already read or will study the adventures of the timeless orphan character, Oliver Twist.  You’ve probably even viewed the film version of the story with your fellow scholars.  During this time, have you ever considered the film you were watching is an intersemiotic translation of the text?  In this case, a translation multimedia translation from text to film.  Who knew!   The 2007 BBC film adaptation of  Charles Dickens’ 19th century novel “Oliver Twist” is an example of multiple forms of media in translation, while maintaining the essence of the original work.

What’s Good:

The film Oliver Twist boasts the conventional elements of a story taking place in 19th century London.  Additionally, while most of Dickens’ text is maintained throughout the film, the adaptation takes a striking yet subtle modern and social approach to its casting decisions.

What’s Bad:

Generally, the villain in a novel may be present to help convey a moral lesson.  Dickens uses the malevolent character, Fagan, to highlight the orphan’s struggles to survive in a criminal manner.  However, the film’s creators made decisions to represent Fagan in a different light.

Overall Suggestion:

For scholars like yourself who have read Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”, the 2007 BBC film version is a viewing worth watching, especially since the similarities and changes are excellent examples of how translations are possible through different periods in time, and through multiple forms of media.  The film adaptation provides a lovely visual performance of the text that makes it appropriate for anyone to enjoy.


The Breakdown


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Staying true to the text, the film effectively captures Dickens’ visual elements of characters, clothing, architecture, and the social classes.  Developing the illustrations of Dickens’ narrative in an detailed and accurate manner that remains relevant to the text is critical in translations, especially when interpreting from text to film



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A black actress was selected to portray Nancy’s character, which is a considerable move since “Oliver Twist” implies that most of the characters are white.  Making this choice brings a new meaning and depth to Nancy’s character that could challenge the audience to gain a new perspective of teh story, the time period, and how we think about outcasts today.   How’s that for making a translated version of an original work your own creative spotlight?  However, the film fails to maintain this same discourse and pronounces Fagan as a character who the audience may want to feel sorry for since he represents a multi-dimensional character.  Yet, Fagan’s character in the film loses some of the moral dynamic and inquisition into Fagan’s character that are written in the original text.


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Oliver Twist’s storytelling aspect is a great one since the audience can stay engaged and interested in the film’s plot and ending.   However, accomplishing this task was not a difficult one since most of the storyline in the film relies heavily on Dickens’ original text.  Yet, the film’s conventions and action throughout the viewing experience makes the overall story much more compelling to see in this interpreted version.



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Oliver Twist’s originality gains most of this score from it’s casting choices and character portrayal.  Although translation aims to keep the author’s voice in the interpretation, the a translated version should not be a replica of the original. Therefore, the film adaptation manages to convey these aspects while not letting the film overshadow Dickens’ creation.

‘”There are a good many books, are there not, my boy?’ said Mr. Brownlow. […]  ‘A great number, sir,’ replied Oliver.”

As you continue your unit on the timeless novel, “Oliver Twist” and begin the film version of the text, consider the translation theory aspects that have been practiced throughout the film.  What translation choices, changes, or eliminations would you have made if you were creating your own film adaption?  In this case, the 2007 BBC film adaptation creates the intersemiotic translation with an entertaining and compelling approach that leaves the Dickens’ voice throughout the story.

“True art selects and paraphrases, but seldom gives a verbatim translation.” Thomas Bailey Aldrich


Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Oliver Twist. Dir. Coky Giedroyc. BBC, 2007. DVD.



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