Alison Jones meets the cast of Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist...
Roman Polanski's decision to direct The Pianist, the Oscar-winning story of a Jewish musician hiding out in the Warsaw ghetto, was prompted by his own childhood struggle to survive after his parents were taken away to the labour and concentration camps during the second world war Two.
Filming it was a cathartic experience but one that afterwards left him yearning to tackle something lighter - something that he could make for his children, whom he read to every night.
But Polanski is a man moulded by his past and so once again he chose a tale that he could relate to, that of a boy orphaned by circumstance. Left to live off his wits and the kindness of strangers.
It is nearly 40 years since the last film version of Oliver Twist, so it was ripe for rediscovery and a retelling that didn't involve apple cheeked urchins imploring Oliver to " consider yourself one of the family".
Polanski and scriptwriter Ronald Harwood have attempted to stick as closely as possible to the original novel which actually began as a serial, subtitled The Parish Boy' s Progress in Bentley's Miscellany in 1837.
Characters such as Toby Crackit (Mark Strong) Bill Sykes' partner in burglary, are more fully realised than in previous screen versions. It has also been given a regional flavour as the workhouse where Oliver begs for more is set in the Midlands and the undertakers where he is apprenticed all speak with accents bordering on the Brummie.
"Part of the challenge for me was that I had to talk in a slight Birmingham accent because Oliver is originally from the West Midlands and he walks about 90 miles to London," reveals young Mr Twist, aka 12-year-old Hackney native Barney Clark
"It was quite hard but the dialect coach showed me how to position my mouth and it kind of works by itself."
Slight in build with soft features and soulful eyes, there could hardly be a greater contrast between Barney and his neighbour at the press conference, 15-year-old Harry Eden who plays the Artful Dodger, not least because of Harry's deep, just back from holidays tan.
But Barney's pale delicacy hides a devilish sense of humour.
He and Harry, together with the rest of the boys playing Fagin's gang of pickpockets would, in between outings to the go kart track, regularly go on the rampage in the hotel where they were staying while filming in Prague.
"We got into a bit of trouble," admits Barney, striving to look apologetic.
"I dropped water bombs on people. Harry and I would also pick the pockets of the extras on set and then give it back."
Among those amused by his antics was Jamie Foreman who plays Bill Sykes.
A father himself, he felt a paternalistic pull to protect his young co-star, particularly when they were doing some of the trickier stunts. However, he also needed to make sure Barney looked suitably scared of him when the cameras were rolling.
"It was very difficult because Barney and I had a lot of dangerous things to do. When we were up on the roofs (when Sykes takes Oliver hostage and flees across warehouse roofs) you have to feel a sense of trust.
"That helped Barney and I, because when I was throwing him about he'd know there was another side to me that was different.
"We used to do scenes and every time I would grab him I'd ask if it hurt and when he'd say 'yeah' I'd say 'good' but he knew I was doing that for a reason."
A familiar face from films and TV series requiring a low rent London gangster type, Jamie was an obvious choice for the role of Sykes.
He grew up between London and Tower Bridges and was a pupil at the Charles Dickens Primary School. Though he may lack Oliver Reed's air of intelligent menace, Jamie successfully projects a mix of thuggishness, self pity and native cunning appropriate for a modestly successful villain, the perfect foil for Fagin's (Ben Kingsley) wiliness.
"You could make a shopping list of all the characters you want to play but when somebody like Roman comes along and says you have all the qualities that he is looking for for his Bill Sykes, that's a dream come true."
However, Jamie was saddled with a particularly troublesome co-star --the dog.
"I wanted to barbecue him," growls Jamie.
"He is bigger than me the dog. He was Czech and didn't speak any English. No one told me for the first two days that when he started barking if I went shush it meant 'bark more'.
"He certainly wasn't Lassie, that's for sure."
Performances were undoubtedly helped by the realism of the sets. They positively dripped with Victorian squalor.
"Alain Sarde's design on this film is absolutely phenomenal," says Jamie "It's so truthful and realistic.
"The amount of detail, whatever shop you walked into, if it was a butcher's say, there would pork chops there. If you went into a greengrocer's shop there would fruit and veg hanging around the walls. You always got a sense that it was actually real.
"The buildings were all built to scale. It's not like when you go on the Universal Tour and you see Norman Bates' house but it's like a doll's house plonked on top of a little hill."
The curious Barney took some convincing that Polanski hadn't actually built his own city.
"When we first walked in we'd say 'that's real brick', but you'd go and knock it and it was cardboard . . . with a dent in it."