Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Oliver Twist: A black Nancy?

The new BBC adaptation of Oliver Twist does not improve with greater acquaintance. But one point of interest is the casting of the black actress Sophie Okonedo as Nancy.

I don't know how credible the idea of a black prostitute in Dickensian London is, though it would be surprising if there were none. But this casting does recall one of the great might have beens of British cinema history - Shirley Bassey almost played in Nancy in the film of Oliver!

As Film Threat tells it:

Columbia Pictures acquired the rights to the hit musical show “Oliver!” and wanted to ensure its investment by casting Peter Sellers in the plum role of Fagin. But director Sir Carol Reed did not want Sellers, preferring to allow British actor Ron Moody to recreate his stage triumph as Fagin. Moody was not a film star and Columbia was not happy to have him in that expensive production.

However, Columbia’s brass was less thrilled at Reed’s insistence on having Welsh singer Shirley Bassey play Nancy. The studio was jittery that the inclusion of the black Bassey in the all-white cast would create problems with audiences uncomfortable with interracial romance, especially since her character is in love with a man who kills her.

A compromise was reached between the studio and director: Moody was cast as Fagin but white actress Shani Wallis was cast as Nancy.


Anonymous said...

Shani Wallis , white ?
You ought to do your research , chum

Jonathan Calder said...

I'm not your chum, Willum

Anonymous said...

She would appear to be a white woman -yes.
Ive done a tiny bit of research on her parentage, her father wasn't a black GI over in England for WW2. More pedestrian than that im afraid, Common or Garden white people

Jonathan Calder said...

Shani Wallis is white: Shirley Bassey is mixed race.