Picks and Pans Review: Oliver Twist

updated 01/06/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/06/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

A&E (Tues., Jan. 7, 8 p.m. ET)

A

The miniseries is not an invention of television. It is a time-honored tradition of storytelling from Homer to Dickens to Garry Trudeau. And Dickens is still the master. Oliver Twist makes that clear. His beloved novel started as a miniseries in print; it was serialized. Now it is a spectacularly captivating miniseries on video. While watching Twist, I started comparing it with more modern minis: A.D., North and South, Hollywood Wives, either of last year's Mussolini epics or Ellis Island. In the end, Twist stands out like a silk thread in a suit of polyester. You might suspect that I say that to impress you, to demonstrate that just because I love trash, it doesn't mean I can't appreciate class too. But no. You don't need a Ph.D. in English Lit to see what Dickens did right and the rest do wrong. Dissect little Oliver and you'll find that the secrets to Dickens' success were amazingly simple: He had wonderful characters—Oliver to love, Fagin to fascinate, Bill Sikes to hate. He had suspense—making you wonder and worry whether Oliver would get framed for the Artful Dodger's light-fingered theft. He had delightful little subplots—like the romance of bad-guy Mr. Bumble. He had superb settings—from the workhouse to Fagin's den of thieves. He had great lines. And he had a message. Most or all of these elementary elements are missing from modern minis. Dickens was simply a better entertainer. Though this six-part Twist, produced in England by the BBC and presented here by cable's Arts & Entertainment, isn't as slick as most minis—as lush and lavish in costumes, photography and locations—it still has top-drawer acting from a cast headed by Eric (Forsyte Saga) Porter as Fagin and a script that holds true to the original. If you have cable, don't miss this Twist.

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