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A beautiful, but destitute woman dies giving birth to a son in a wretched British workhouse without telling anyone her name. The boy is named Oliver by a workhouse official. Oliver lives, abused and half starved, in the workhouse until the age of twelve. After being unfairly punished for defending his mother’s reputation, Oliver escapes and flees to London where he is befriended by a juvenile band of petty thieves and prostitutes led by a criminal mastermind named Fagin. Being young and naive, Oliver does not appreciate the nature of their business and is caught by surprise when his friend Jack steals a silk handkerchief from a wealthy gentleman named Brownlow. Brownlow wrongly accuses Oliver of the theft. When Oliver’s innocence is proven in court, Brownlow takes pity on him and invites him into his home. Brownlow, who finds Oliver to be vaguely familiar, introduces him to his friend and neighbour Mr. Griffith. Griffith, however, is unsympathetic to Oliver’s plight and predicts that he will betray Brownlow’s trust. Angry at losing such a valuable apprentice and fearful that he will reveal his whereabouts to the police, Fagin arranges for his protégés Bill Sikes and Nancy to kidnap Oliver. Determined to commit Oliver to a life of crime, Fagin sends him out on a robbery with the brutal Sikes and his associate Toby Crackit. On the night of the robbery, Sikes puts Oliver through a small window and orders him, under the threat of death, to open the front door. After doing so, Oliver recognizes that he is in Mr. Griffith’s house and shouts a warning. Griffith appears with a pistol and shoots at the intruders. Oliver is shot. While Sikes runs off, Crackit secretly carries Oliver to the front steps of the nearby Brownlow residence. Brownlow nurses Oliver back to health and sets out to determine his true identity. Through his network of spies, Fagin learns of Oliver’s whereabouts and conspires with Sikes to have him murdered. Nancy, who overhears their conversation, is distraught with grief over her role in kidnapping Oliver and bringing him back under Fagin’s malevolent control. Despite the danger to her own life, Nancy resolves to make amends by warning Brownlow of the threat on Oliver’s life. In the pages that follow, the lives of all of the characters are thrown into turmoil as friendships are tested and loyalties betrayed.

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