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Tim Minchin is part of Oliver Twist’s Australian spin-off

Filmed in Sydney, <i>The Artful Dodger</i> tells the story of pickpocket turned doctor Jack Dawkins.

Filmed in Sydney, The Artful Dodger tells the story of pickpocket turned doctor Jack Dawkins.

Australian actor, musician and writer Tim Minchin is never far away from a camera, a piano, a script or a stage.

After enjoying success with Upright (for which he won a 2020 AACTA for best comedy performer), spearheading the international stage productions of Matilda and a recent spell of sold-out Unfunny shows across the UK, Minchin, 48, is back in Australia.

This time, he has joined a cast of British and Australian actors to tell the story of the much-loved Charles Dickens Oliver Twist character, Jack Dawkins, in Disney+’s second locally-produced scripted series, The Artful Dodger.

Announced at a Disney+ showcase in Singapore late last year, original content strategy boss Carol Choi said the local production was part of the streaming service’s growing slate of productions in the Asia-Pacific.

“Our aspiration is for stories from the Asia-Pacific region to be a key pillar for the next 100 years,” Ms Choi said, adding that The Clearing and Last Days of the Space Age make up its big three Australian entries into the market.

Although Dickens’ scallywag pickpocket – nicknamed the Dodger – and his band of child criminals wreaked havoc on the streets of London in the 1830s, the story picks up in the fictitious colony of Port Victory in Australia in the 1850s.

Filmed in Sydney

Described as an “irreverent Dickens follow-up”, The Artful Dodger was filmed in Sydney (with financial support provided by the state government through Screen NSW’s Made In NSW fund) and will “explore the adult double life of the famous prince of thieves”.

UK actor Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Pistol, The Queen’s Gambit) stars as Dawkins, while fellow Brit David Thewlis (Landscapers, Fargo) plays Fagin, the old man in London who taught the homeless boys how to be pickpockets, and Australian singer and actor Maia Mitchell (Good Trouble, The Fosters), 30, stars as the love interest, Lady Belle Fox.

Minchin’s character weaves in among a who’s who of actors completing the cohort of Dickens characters.

Damon Herriman (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Judy & Punch), Miranda Tapsell (Top End Wedding, The Sapphires), Susie Porter (Wentworth, Gold), Kym Gyngell (Love Me, Black Snow) and Damien Garvey (Nautilus, Jack Irish) get a look in across the eight-episode series set to launch in late November.

Thomas Brodie-Sangster plays the handsome, grown-up doctor Jack Dawkins. Photo: Disney+

So who are the characters who will tell the story of the Dodger’s life Down Under and what became of him?

Along with Andrew Knight, Vivienne Walshe, Dan Knight, with the story consultant services of Tapsell, it is co-created by LA-based Australian screenwriter and film academic James McNamara who is well placed to put pen to paper on a Dickens classic.

The English novelist, considered by some to be the greatest author of the Victorian era (with 15 novels including A Christmas Carol), would be proud.

McNamara, a former trial lawyer, specialises in literary adaptations for television, “focusing on elevated historical procedurals” including Shakespeare.

He works out of the University of California Santa Barbara and has a PhD from Oxford on a topic spanning 17th to 19th century literature and drama.

Perfect.

‘Reinvention, betrayal, redemption’

So what does he and the creative team do with Dawkins?

“[He] has transferred his fast fingers as a pickpocket to the nimble skilled fingers of a surgeon,” writes the official logline.

“Dodger’s past returns to haunt him with the arrival of Fagin, luring him back into a world of crime.

“A greater threat – to Dodger’s heart – is Lady Belle, the Governor’s daughter, determined to become the colony’s first female surgeon.

“From heists and life-and-death surgeries to the harsh realities of the criminal world mingling with the middle ground and gentry, this eight-part series is a tale of reinvention, betrayal, redemption, and love with a twist.”

The Artful Dodger

The Dodger has been portrayed 19 times on stage and screen since the early 1930s, including this 1968 classic that depicts how the two young orphans meet on the streets.

He has been portrayed by The Voice judge Rita Ora, in the 2021 film Twist and by legendary US singer Billy Joel, who once voiced him in a 1988 animation, Oliver & Company [it is reportedly Joel’s only acting credit].

Screen Australia funded a 2001 production, Escape of the Artful Dodger, which centred on the Dodger’s realisation he could escape from being a crook, and be a hero.

Even Argentine football player and 1986 FIFA World Cup-winning captain Diego Maradona was frequently referred to as the Artful Dodger due to his cunning personality and ability to get away with fouls.

The novel has been on school curriculums around the world and the characters have been hard-wired into our collective brains.

Oliver is the main character in Dickens’ novel when the Dodger, who dresses older than his age and is a loyal Fagin lieutenant, befriends him on the streets of London and tries to turn him into a pickpocket.

The Dodger eventually gets caught stealing a silver snuff box, and Dickens alludes to the fact a judge has sentenced him to a penal colony in Australia.

” … the Artful’s booked for a passage out,” replied Master Bates. “… to think of Jack Dawkins – lummy Jack– the Dodger – the Artful Dodger – going abroad for a common twopenny-halfpenny sneeze-box!”

With Dawkins prepared to go on the straight and narrow, and become a middle-class free man with a decent job and income in Sydney town, the question is how he will dodge the criminal world.

Will he work out his friends are his enemies? Will he once again promise to Fagin he will be a villain till his dying day?

The Artful Dodger premieres exclusively on Disney+ on November 29

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