The Artful Dodger

The Artful Dodger
The Artful Dodger
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The Artful Dodger is an Australian original series that drops you into a historic place and gives Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist character a contemporary spin. Often, it feels like The Artful Dodger’s creative sibling of Netflix’s hit One Piece, where the narrative is fast-paced and frequently contorts a modern score over period piece with tons of twists while the protagonists urgently skate through more madcap escapes than they can count.

One of the best new shows on Hulu in 2021 is The Artful Dodger which ambitiously explores the adulterous double life of Charles Dickens’ infamous “prince of thieves,” Jack Dawkins (played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster from Game of Thrones and Love Actually) or should I say, The ArtfulDodger; whose precision pickpocket fingers have now materialized into surgical fingers working for him in this innovative alteration.

The story takes place in Port Victory, bustling but gritty colony in Australia during the 1850s. To sustain oneself here one had to work hard but this Dawson version cannot escape his twisted past that boomerangs back once Fagin played by Harry Potter Deathly Hallows: Part 2’s David Thewlis, comes to haunt him again into crime. With its intensity intact as well as versatility there are quite some things to love about The Artful Dodger.

Thomas Brodie-Sangster makes no mistake about this extraordinary spectacle. This happens to be among his best deliveries ever since he started acting due to how much weight he attaches to his performance throughout series from physicality up to facial expressions that make us love and cheer for him as our favorite character all along. Maia Mitchell also stars in the eight-episode series as Lady Belle Fox, determined Governor’s daughter who wants to become region’s first-ever female surgeon.

There are moments when Dawkins and Lady Belle seem enjoyably witty with each other in way that can easily develop into potential romantic involvement. It is clear that Brodie-Sangster and Mitchell had a solid connection, as the former’s lines demonstrated. A superstar cast of Australians including Damon Herriman, Tim Minchin, Miranda Tapsell, Susie Porter, Damien Garvey, Kym Gyngell, Vivienne Awosoga and New Zealand’s Albert Latailakepa excellently inhabit this unique fantastical world.

But it is the series’ textural shift between Dawkins and Fagin that remains most captivating in watching these first four episodes. Readers with a slight understanding of Charles Dickens would know Fagin abandoned Dawkins to serve his own term in jail; thus Fagin’s introduction offers an opportunity for delving into another story in the Dickensverse. This creation presents Thewlis at his finest by striking a perfect balance between Fagin’s shady side while also showing viewers something about his human side thereby making him a more complex character.

The opening few episodes of the show suggest we have entered into an alternative Dodgerverse. Having become late adolescence now there is no time wasted in creating a life or death predicament by outsmarting cardsharper where he has to deliver money or face amputation.

This gutsy endeavor was created by James McNamara, Andrew Knight, Vivienne Walshe and Dan Knight furiously rush their way through 1800s Australian realities. Based on its high stakes atmosphere and gruesome surgeries alone The Artful Dodger qualifies as must-see TV for anyone who loves good drama. One character remarks “The world is full – to understand all you have to concentrate on something.”

The Artful Dodger also commands attention, but it’s not that cryptic or hard to follow. To recoup his lost earnings and settle debts, Dodger transforms into a more proficient surgeon. The grit is witty enough here as Dodger turns into quite an actor in the presence of a crowd where he will be found sewing up one man or getting ready to operate another. The operations lean towards the gory side — imagine 1850s Charles Dickens’ version of Grey’s Anatomy. Arms hacked off and other dismembered body parts galore.

Two things captivate Dodger’s mind — Fagin and Belle, Lady. In the meantime, the well-produced series does a great job of throwing in its own fair share of smart tricks in a colorful criminal underworld. There are many other important characters who can spice up the entire story turning it into something about redemption and re-creation at large. It does not matter if you do not know any book by Dickens as these people are vibrant and simple to comprehend all on their own though fans of the classic author will appreciate allusions to Oliver Twist that pop up during the course.

Damon Herriman shines as Captain Gaines through this narrative; hence, there is some Dickensian momentum behind it. This soldier is oblivious to his marital problems and likes demonstrating his standing by investigating Dodger and Fagin relationship. Moreover, Lucy-Rose Leonard plays a good role for Lady Fanny Fox because she is Belle’s prim, proper sister who always looks at life optimistically. Damien Garvey makes a memorable appearance as Governor Edmund Fox.

All other characters provide added depths within this unique, finely crafted reimagining of Dodger. Also echoing certain elements from Oliver Twist both in theme and tone too. Boldly thrilling fun, The Artful Dodger demands an energetic plunge into it.

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