Published: 06:00, 29 January 2021
| Updated: 13:24, 16 March 2021
A new film based on Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist will premiere on Sky Cinema today.
The co-production stars an array of British actors, including Sir Michael Caine, Lena Headey, Rita Ora, David Walliams, Franz Drameh, Sophie Simnett and Raff Law (Jude Law's son).
Law stars in the title role as Oliver but the new film has a thoroughly modern take on the famous tale.
This interpretation of the Dickens’ classic sees Oliver reinvented as a streetwise artist living on the streets of modern-day London.
A chance encounter with a gang of drifters led by the charismatic Dodge, played by Rita Ora, sees him caught up in a high-stakes heist to steal a priceless painting for master thief, Fagin.
Fagin is played by Michael Caine and his partner Sikes, is played by Lena Headey.
Franz Drameh stars as Batesey, Sophie Simnett is Red and David Walliams stars as Losberne. It's directed by Martin Owen.
The trailer for Twist which is a new modern take on the classic novel
So we thought the release of the new film could let us look at Kent's links to the original Charles Dickens' tale and what inspired him to write it in his London townhouse where he also completed The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, and started writing Barnaby Rudge.
He also has strong connections to Rochester and in the gardens of Eastgate House stands Dickens’ Swiss Chalet, which was used by the author as his study at his home at Gad’s Hill Place.
However, some of his inspirations for the book, which was first published in 1838, must have come from some of the many workhouses which used to be scattered across Kent.
Dickens captured the conditions in the workhouses in the book when he sees Oliver ask 'for more' gruel from his cruel taskmasters.
Certainly Dickens was no fan of the workhouse - he believed conditions were dragged down to deter the most in-need of attending and thus save money - but a little over 100 years ago they were the refuge for the poorest and most infirm in society.
For many it was an unpalatable option but the only one available to them in an era before state hand-outs and social housing.
Today, a lot of those buildings - many grand and imposing by modern standards - still exist, albeit long since repurposed. Many more have been demolished in the name of progress.
There were once dozens of them in the county and for many they stand as a reminder of a by-gone era often only remembered today courtesy of Dickens' pen.
Their roots can be traced all the way back to the late 14th century when the Poor Law Act of 1388 was introduced to tackle appalling labour shortages following the Black Death.
The first workhouse, as such, would emerge in the mid-17th century and the idea was relatively simple; to provide a place where those unable to support themselves could do work in exchange for food and eventually accommodation too.
By the end of the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century, there was mass unemployment and matters were made worse by a series of poor harvests which left many struggling to make ends meet as agricultural jobs dried up.
Enter the New Poor Law of 1834, which rubbed Dickens up the wrong way but paved the way for the workhouse boom during the Victorian era.
In Medway, there were several. The Chatham Workhouse which in later years would become the All Saints Hospital in Magpie Hall Road, Chatham - replacing the previous workhouse on Chatham Hill.
And its records along with other documents from other workhouses can now be viewed online.
Today the buildings are gone and a housing estate is in its place.
St Margaret's in Rochester took less than 100 inmates and would be turned into a school once its days caring for the poor were over.
It was taken over by King's School in 1960 and has been in constant use ever since.
And the North Aylesford Union workhouse was erected in 1837 at the north side of Gun Lane in Strood, would have probably been somewhere Dickens passed on his many walks.
He also used to frequent the historic Crispin and Crispianus pub in High Street, Strood, which is just around the corner.
And of course, the famous tale has been adapted for stage and there have been various theatres in Kent which have put on performances of Oliver Twist, which was one the author's earliest novels.
Dickens was often unimpressed by unauthorised performances of his work; he mocked the plagiarising playwrights and found at least one production of Oliver Twist unbearable.
Despite the author's displeasure, the public flocked to the plays.
And one of the most notable adaptations to be performed at a Kent theatre was when actor Ron Moody came to the Marlowe Theatre in 2009 to reprise his role as Fagin.
He is best known for his starring role as Fagin in Lionel Bart's stage and film musical Oliver!
The classic show premiered in 1960 and only eight years later the film version starring Ron Moody scooped six Academy Awards including Best Picture.
The tale has also been staged at other theatres across Kent and schools and colleges across in the county have also put on their own versions of the story over the years.
In Rochester there is usually an annual Dickens Festival which is held in June.
It sees many people dress up as characters from his books including several from Oliver Twist including Fagin, Nancy and even Bill Sikes and his dog Bull's-eye.
In fact, there is usually a Dickens Festival costume sale staged a month before the festival where people can buy their outfits.
However, last year the festival was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Organisers The Rochester and Chatham Dickens Fellowship and Medway Council are working on the basis if the festival is able to go ahead this year, if Covid restrictions allow, it will be held on Saturday, June 5 and Sunday, June 6.
The Corn Exchange in Northgate, Rochester, has also been provisionally booked for the Dickens Ball on the evening of Friday, June 4.
Another event in the Medway Towns, The Dickens 150 Light Nights project is also provisionally scheduled for October this year.
Organisers are also working on the basis that if the Dickensian Christmas Festival is able to go ahead, it will be held on Saturday, December 4 and Sunday, December 5.
Again, the Corn Exchange has been provisionally booked for the Mistletoe Ball on the evening of Friday, December 3, where guests can also dress up as their favourite Twist characters.
For more information about the festivals, click here.
The seaside town of Broadstairs also stages annual festivals in Dickens' honour.
It is not clear if it will go ahead this year due to the ongoing pandemic restrictions, but is due to run from Friday, June 18 to Sunday, June 20 if it does.
Organisers say updates will be published when they have more news.
To find out more click here.
And of course, there are several places in the county named after characters from the book.
One, in Rochester, is called Oliver Twist Close and is just off the Esplanade.
There also used to be a Fagin's Cafe in Rochester High Street, however, it closed down several years ago and the building later became a Pizza Express.
There is also a holiday cottage in Broadstairs people stay in called Fagin's Den.
Once inside, the cottage is like stepping back into Dickensian time and visitors can also be supplied with Victorian costumes to wear and Victorian games to play.
And people can also stay in The Fagin Suite at Bleak House, Fort Road, Broadstairs.
The new film Twist will be available on Sky Cinema from 9.25am today.