Orphaned at birth, Oliver Twist grows up in a workhouse where discipline is harsh. At the age of nine, he is apprenticed to an undertaker. Ill-treated, he runs away to London.
Two years after Great Expectations, the brilliant interpretation of the character Fagin would establish Alec Guinness as a new star. His characterisation was at times considered anti-Semitic in the way it used the stereotypical image of the Jew. David Lean defended this, particularly pointing out that the word "Jew" is never uttered in the film, and that his main inspiration had been George Cruikshank's illustrations for the first edition of the novel. This debate was particularly fierce in the United States, where the film was only released in 1951 in an edited version.