Australian Council on Children and the Media

Oliver Twist

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Short takes

Not recommended under 10, PG to 15 (Viol. Scary scenes. Theme)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Oliver Twist
  • a review of Oliver Twist completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 22 June 2006.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 10 Not recommended due to violence, scary scenes and theme
Children 10-15 Parental guidance recommended

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Oliver Twist
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Infrequent violence, Mature themes
Length 130 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

When Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) is eleven years old, he runs away from the orphanage where he has been so badly treated and treks 70 miles to London. Exhausted and with bleeding feet, Oliver is befriended by the Artful Dodger (Harry Eden) who introduces him to cunning Fagin (Ben Kingsley). Oliver is quickly immersed in the seedy world of 19th century London and is taught how to pick pockets and survive on the streets.
Fortunately for Oliver his path crosses that of the kindly Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke) However, nasty Bill Sykes (Jamie Foreman) is determined that Oliver won’t be allowed out of his desperate situation, despite the attempts by Bill’s girlfriend Nancy (Leanne Rowe) to protect him.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Child crime and survival in 19th century London, Children as victims

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is a lot of violence in this movie including:

  • Oliver is beaten with a cane for asking for more food
  • a man hits a donkey with a stick
  • Oliver attacks a boy for insulting his dead mother
  • the housekeeper and a boy both attack Oliver and lock him in a coal shed
  • Mr. Sowerberry (the undertaker) canes Oliver for attacking the boy
  • Fagin threatens Oliver with a large pair of scissors, holding them close to his face
  • Fagin attacks Dodger for losing Oliver. Dodger defends himself with a red hot poker.
  • Bill Sykes beats Nancy (Leanne Rowe), his mistress, on several occasions
  • Fagin beats Oliver for trying to escape
  • Brownlow shoots at Sykes and hits Oliver instead
  • Bill Sykes beats Nancy to death. Her blood is shown trickling through a door
  • Bill Sykes kicks his dog
  • a policeman shoots at Sykes.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • the fact that Oliver is an orphan.
  • Oliver is crying when he is made to appear before a room full of men from the Board
  • the images of the workhouse
  • the dormitory full of beds. A boy is so hungry he can’t sleep and says he’s afraid he might eat the lad next to him (Oliver)
  • the appearance of a chimney sweep covered in soot. He is about to take Oliver away.
  • Oliver is given dog food to eat.
  • Oliver collapses on the road from exhaustion.
  • Fagin looks a very scary man – bent over, dirty and unkempt
  • a man trying to stop him in his tracks knocks out Oliver. Oliver gets a fat lip.
  • Oliver collapses in the court room.
  • Bill Sykes owns a very fierce looking bull terrier type of dog
  • Sykes, his accomplice and Oliver, walk through town which is covered in mist, pouring with rain and scary music plays
  • Oliver’s arm is shown covered in blood and he is clearly in much pain.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Oliver has to sleep on the floor of an undertaker’s house. It is full of coffins and Oliver is very frightened
  • The sight of 19th century London, with rats on the ground, men brawling, etc.
  • Oliver is abducted by Sykes and his girlfriend Nancy
  • Fagin scares Oliver by talk of hanging from the gallows
  • Sykes threatens Oliver with a pistol to his head, forcing him to accompany him and another man to rob Brownlow’s house
  • Bill Sykes falls in the river
  • Bill Sykes beats Nancy to death. Her blood is shown trickling through the door.
  • Sykes makes Oliver walk along a high ledge and climb up roof tiles. He swings from a rope holding Oliver to cross from one roof to another.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, particularly younger children in this age bracket, including the following:

  • the boys have to steal to survive
  • Oliver pleads with Sykes not to make him go into Brownlow’s house. Sykes again threatens him with the pistol.
  • Sykes plans to kill Oliver.
  • Sykes uses Oliver as a human shield to protect himself from the police shooting him.
  • Sykes accidentally hangs himself. His body is shown hanging from the rope.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Some adolescents could be concerned by the scene in which Bill Sykes beats Nancy to death

Sexual references

None

Nudity and sexual activity

None

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • the boys are often shown smoking, particularly Artful Dodger who smokes a pipe
  • Fagin drugs Oliver to put him to sleep
  • the boys drink alcohol in the pub along with the adults
  • Nancy drugs Bill to make him sleep.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, principally:

  • ‘Oh my Gawd’

In a nutshell

Roman Polanski’s latest version of Oliver Twist, the very dark, Dickension tale of 19th century London, is very authentically portrayed and thus quite disturbing. The main message from the movie is that innate goodness can resist and ultimately overcome the external pressures of an evil world.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • resilience
  • kindness
  • trust.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as.

  • crime and petty theft
  • underage drinking and smoking
  • bad treatment of women by men.

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