The Artful Dodger

The Artful Dodger

2023 - Australia

the charming performances keep you coming back to see how these characters evolve

Review by Jennifer AJ

The deceptive street urchin from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist finally takes his spotlight in this anarchic take on the classic tale. Crime genre definitely makes sense within the context of the wily pickpocket’s origin story, but the show adds a different edge by fusing medical elements into the Victorian-era set drama where the former kid gang-leader is rebuilding his life.

15 years after being banished to Australia at the end of Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodger – who now goes by Jack Dawkins (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) – has reinvented himself into a reliable young surgeon. However, old habits die hard, and Jack has been accruing gambling debts from gangsters who’ve grown impatient with his excuses, when he bumps into his old mentor, Fagin (David Thewlis), who’s also serving penance in the colony. Aware of his money trouble, Fagin begins persuading Jack to revive his conman skill to swindle people. Around the same time, Jack encounters Lady Belle Fox (Maia Mitchell), the feisty daughter of the governor with an uncharacteristically deep interest in surgery. As Belle enlists his help to make her the first female surgeon, Jack struggles between his desire to save lives and his old criminal ways.

The Artful Dodger

After some scene-stealing turns in The Queen’s Gambit and the Maze Runner franchise, Brodie-Sangster finally gets a well-deserved leading role. Indeed, the show lives and dies by his charismatic turn as a reformed thug turned kind-hearted surgeon. The guy, perpetually youthful looking despite his maturity, injects Jack with a kind of effortless rock-star energy that captivates your attention. As Jack the surgeon, he is cocky and quick witted with the occasional sly glints of someone who knows how to play up his charisma. But he’s also tender and heartfelt during moments of vulnerability, especially when it comes to his love-hate quasi-paternal relationship with Fagin. The long brewing bad blood between them creates a crackling dynamic where you can’t really tell where sincerity ends and manipulation begins. To his credit, Thewlis plays his part so menacingly well as Jack’s foil, you can truly feel that he poses danger to our Jack, and yet, like Jack, you just keep being transfixed by him. His Shakespearean line delivery singles him out as a larger-than-life persona among the young cast’s more modern-ish cadence.

The Artful Dodger

The third cogwheel in The Artful Dodger’s appeal is Lady Belle. The total opposite of hard-knock life Jack, the privileged young lady has everything in life and yet bravely chooses the unconventional path of a doctor while being a woman in the 19th century. Her determination to keep doing what she loves instantly endears her to you. Her resourcefulness gives audiences clues about her brilliance – a good indicator of showing more instead of telling us. Played so adorably by Mitchell, she brims with charisma as she navigates a repressive world in her own way and later plays a crucial part in Jack’s life. While Fagin is the devil on Jack’s left shoulder, Belle is the angelic voice guiding him out of the darkness. Her camaraderie with Jack quickly blossoms into romance, a classic setup that’s been missing from recent TV shows that it feels quite refreshing to find again. The chemistry is wonderful too, which is awesome.

For the triple performances alone, the show is worth checking out. The storylines itself aren’t the most ingenious, well executed as they are. It has the usual case-of-the-week format with a season-long arc hinging on Jack’s moral struggle as well as Belle’s surgery training. The plot runs thin at times, but the charming performances keep you coming back to see how these characters evolve. It’s an excellent choice if you’re down for some non-stuffy period piece with good acting and a sweet romance.

Published on March 14th, 2024. Written by Jennifer Ariesta for Television Heaven.

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