18 February 2013

The Artful Dodger’s Back. And This Time It’s Personal

Toward the end of Oliver Twist, the police arrest Jack Dawkins, alias the Artful Dodger, for stealing a silver snuffbox from a gentleman’s pocket. One of his colleagues, Charley Bates, comments: “To think of Jack Dawkins—lummy Jack—the Dodger—the Artful Dodger—going abroad for a common twopenny-halfpenny sneeze-box!”

“Going abroad” refers to a sentence of transportation to one of Britain’s penal colonies, most likely Australia. Charles Dickens never actually shows the Dodger’s sentencing, but his youth makes him an unlikely candidate for hanging (yet). Instead, we can imagine Jack Dawkins starting a new life in the antipodes, perhaps even becoming the gentleman he’s always styled himself to be.

But the Guardian reports a movie studio is imagining a different future for the Dodger:
Titled Dodge and Twist, studio Sony's revisionist take follows…a more comedic approach and is based on an original screenplay by Cole Haddon, writer of the forthcoming US TV series Dracula. The film will portray the two characters as rivals on opposite sides of the law in Victorian London during an episode in which someone tries to steal the crown jewels. The script is based on an original idea by producer Ahmet Zappa, son of rock legend Frank, which is said to be influenced by the success of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films.
This isn’t the first time imaginative dramatists have invented new fates for the Dodger. In the 1968 Oliver!, of course, he and Fagin escape arrest and enjoy the movie’s final number.

More to the point, in 1980 British television came up with The Further Adventures of Oliver Twist, in which the title character goes off to a posh boarding school and there finds Jack Dawkins, of all people. The two boys end up back on the dark streets of London. That story also appeared as a paperback novel and a comic.

Australian television gave us Escape of the Artful Dodger in 2001. That story transported the Dodger to Australia, but also sent Oliver there in more respectable fashion. Once again, Oliver ends up on the wrong side of the law, and the Dodger helps him out.

Those latter-day sequels, like Dodge and Twist, recognize that Oliver without the Victorian underworld to threaten him is a bourgeois nonentity. At the same time, the Dodger’s class-conscious thievery isn’t that endearing unless he’s got a little mate to reluctantly look after. It’s a natural buddy movie.

In fact, British writer Tony Lee worked on a story called Dodge & Twist for years, first as a graphic novel with Paul Peart-Smith (PDF download of preview from 2007) and then as a self-published prose novel (two-chapter preview from 2011). It shows Oliver, having lost his money, meeting Jack, back from Australia—and we’re right back in Dickens’s world.

Zappa’s story is set twenty years after Dickens’s novel; Lee’s is set twelve years after. Zappa’s story uses the crown jewels as the maguffin; Lee’s uses the Koh-i-noor diamond. The Hollywood Reporter said Lee’s take was “more serious.” Lee said he discussed his idea with Zappa a few years back. Isn’t the public domain delightful?

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