The Artful Dodger review – this Dickens sequel is fast, furious and really great fun
Are you feeling like you need a break or some form of distraction? Perhaps something light and easy that won’t require too much focus or emotional involvement? If so, then look no further than Disney’s cheerful follow-up to Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist – The Artful Dodger. Starring Thomas Brodie-Sangster as the former pickpocket and David Thewlis giving a great performance as his notorious former mentor, Fagin.
In Dickens’ story, Jack Dawkins is finally caught and given a sentence of transportation to Australia for stealing a silver snuff box. In the show created by James McNamara, David Maher, and David Taylor, the story continues 15 years later. By this time, Dodger has become a skilled surgeon in the penal colony of Port Victory, using his nimble fingers for good. Unfortunately, the job doesn’t pay well and he has to resort to playing cards to make ends meet. However, he is cheated by the dishonest harbourmaster Darius Cracksworth (played by Tim Minchin) and is now desperate to find £26 by the end of the week or risk losing his hand. Being a surgeon, even in a Victorian penal colony where the job mostly involves amputating limbs quickly, requires both skill and the use of hands.
When Fagin appears with the next group of prisoners – was he truly willing to be executed at Newgate? – and coerces Dodger into allowing him to become his personal attendant, the scene is prepared. The main focus of the series is on the revival of their previous partnership and their struggles to find a solution to their gambling debt. And, perhaps, to also do some good for Fagin in the process. Gems, corrupt religious leaders, a growing network of repeat offenders uncovered by Fagin, and much more are blended together in an enjoyable manner and maintain the plot’s momentum.
However, a skilled and ambitious surgeon needs more than just two hands. They must also have a romantic storyline, which is introduced through Lady Belle Fox (played by Maia Mitchell), the governor’s daughter. Unlike her sister Fanny (played by Lucy-Rose Leonard), who is only interested in marriage, Lady Belle is passionate about medicine and stays updated on advancements in hygiene, microbes, and anesthesia. She aspires to become a doctor herself. When she witnesses Fagin stealing a ruby necklace at her father’s ball and giving it to Dodger, she blackmails him into taking her on as an apprentice. While it’s possible that Dodger may have a genuine relationship with someone in the future, life in a penal colony does not seem conducive to it.
Fortunately, in Belle, he has found someone to assist in controlling the hospital director’s excessive drinking and implementing more ethical practices. However, Belle is struggling with a personal ailment that Dodger’s initial and non-sexual examinations have been unable to diagnose. I hope this condition does not worsen in future episodes, leading to a dramatic and suspenseful climax where the doctor must intervene. But it is likely that the issue will resolve itself.
The Artful Dodger is a lively and enjoyable adventure, with a surprisingly well-written script (such as when Fagin describes the shining rubies in a necklace as “like sun through summer wine” and makes a longing remark about wanting to taste them). However, there are hints early on that the story could have more depth than just a simple romp. The reunion between Dodger and Fagin is filled with hurt, as Dodger is still wounded by Fagin’s past abandonment, and Fagin himself shows a rare moment of honesty when he admits to betraying the boy out of love: “I have always loved you, in my own strange way.” This unexpected emotional moment, reminiscent of Dickens’ original work, adds a sudden depth to the story. Unfortunately, this potentially complex relationship is quickly brushed aside as they resume their life of crime together, with Dodger’s pain fading into mild resentment as he returns to his old tricks.
However, it still maintains its warmth and effortless charisma. Allow it to uplift your spirits and distract your thoughts for an hour or two. The world will inevitably return to its relentless attempts to harm you, but for now, enjoy a brief respite.
The beloved character, the Artful Dodger, can now be found on the streaming service Disney+.