The casting of Oliver himself was crucial to the production’s success, as actor Tom Hardy, who plays a suitably brooding yet menacingly sexy Bill Sikes, testifies. “William is a particularly special young man,” said 30-year-old Hardy, last seen to devastating effect in the title role of BBC2’s adaptation of cult novel Stuart: A Life Backwards.
“He took such a heavy weight on his shoulders, at such a young age. The good thing about William is that he’s very good-looking, but in a real way - he’s not pretty. There’s always the danger that Oliver can go the way of that Where is love? song - and we didn’t want that, no way! For me, that’s toe-curlingly saccharine .
“I like my boys to have a little bit of Cool Hand Luke in them. There’s a little Cool Hand Luke in Will. He can sit and listen, and I think that’s really important to learn like that, early in life. He personifies that as a young man.
“It wasn’t easy for William. If I come running at you as Bill Sikes with a pair of gloves and a long frock-coat, all scarred and menacing, I’d put the wind up you. For a little lad to put up with that, I know it must have been frightening.
“I remember having to do scenes where I’d be grabbing him, carrying him and threatening him, and that’s a lot to put onto a young mind. I know it’s before the watershed, but it can affect kids - the Fagins, the Nancys, the prostitutes, peddlers, murderers, big dogs.”