Film: Nicholas Nickleby

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Film:

Nicholas Nickleby

Director: Douglas McGrath
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Distributor: MGM (Video & DVD)

While it necessarily streamlines the Charles Dickens classic, this delightful adaptation of Nicholas Nickelby captures the essence of Dickens in all of its Victorian splendor and squalor. With Charlie Hunnam (the U.K. Queer as Folk) doing noble work in the title role, this quintessentially Dickensian tale begins with the death of Nicholas’s father, and the subsequent scheme by his cruel uncle (Christopher Plummer, perfectly cast) to separate Nicholas from his now penniless sister and mother. Stuck in a squalid school run by the evil Mr. and Mrs.…

Reviews

Amazon.com

While it necessarily streamlines the Charles Dickens classic, this delightful adaptation of Nicholas Nickelby captures the essence of Dickens in all of its Victorian splendor and squalor. With Charlie Hunnam (the U.K. Queer as Folk) doing noble work in the title role, this quintessentially Dickensian tale begins with the death of Nicholas’s father, and the subsequent scheme by his cruel uncle (Christopher Plummer, perfectly cast) to separate Nicholas from his now penniless sister and mother. Stuck in a squalid school run by the evil Mr. and Mrs. Squeers (Jim Broadbent, Juliet Stevenson), Nicholas escapes with his loyal friend Smike (Billy Elliott’s Jamie Bell), whose lineage will determine the greedy uncle’s fate. As he did with Jane Austen’s Emma, writer-director Douglas McGrath has crafted a prestigious production that shifts effortlessly between comedy and tragedy without compromising its warm, inviting tone. His dialogue rings true throughout, inspiring a stellar cast including Nathan Lane, Alan Cumming, Edward Fox, and Timothy Spall. Dickens himself would almost certainly have approved. —Jeff Shannon

One of Charles Dickens’ most popular novels, Nicholas Nickleby returns to the big screen for the first time since the excellent 1947 Ealing version in a visually breathtaking, lavishly produced new Hollywood interpretation. Following the honest and decent young Nicholas through a darkly oppressive Victorian England, the story moves from a grim boarding school to colourful adventures in the theatre and beyond, interweaving as many of Dickens’ subplots and rich characters as possible into two hours. The little known Charlie Hunnam makes a spirited hero and is surrounded by such fine actors as Tom Courtenay, Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent (wonderful as the grotesque Wackford Squeers), Edward Fox, Juliet Stevenson and Jamie Bell.

This fast-paced film is never less than entertaining and is certainly by far the most handsome screen version of the story, sharing a life-enhancing energy with director Doug McGrath’s previous Brit-lit adaptation, Jane Austen’s Emma (1996). Inevitably much of the complexity and detail of the very long source novel has been sacrificed, and in this regard the 2000 TV version starring James D’Arcy has the advantage. Purists might be happier still with the acclaimed nine-hour 1982 RSC stage adaptation. —Gary S Dalkin

Barnes and Noble

For this Charles Dickens adaptation, Emma director Douglas McGrath has wisely pared down the teeming, sprawling novel about a good-hearted and courageous young man making his way in the world. (The Royal Shakespeare Company produced a nine-hour stage version in 1980.) The compact yet faithful telling follows Nicholas (Charlie Hunnam), who, along with his mother and sister, finds himself in dire financial straits after the death of his beloved father. Over the course of the story, Nicholas sets about establishing himself as a responsible adult, all the while entrusting his fate to a collection of Dickens’s more memorable and colorful characters, brought to life here by a marvelous cast of wily veterans. As Nicholas’s wealthy and hard-hearted uncle Ralph, Christopher Plummer seethes with malevolent intensity. Oscar winner Jim Broadbent virtually froths with rabid glee in his portrayal of Wackford Squeers, the sadistic schoolmaster and archetypal Dickensian villain who employs Nicholas. The icing on the cake is provided both by Nathan Lane’s Mr. Crummles, the traveling thespian who takes Nicholas in, and Barry Humphries, who, via his alter ego Dame Edna Everidge, plays Mrs. Crummles. Together, the pairing is simply priceless. Also featured are Alan Cumming, Anne Hathaway, and Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell as the hard-luck orphan Smike, Nicholas’s loyal friend and companion. As entertaining as it is heartwarming, the film earned a 2003 Golden Globe nomination for Best Musical or Comedy Picture. David Sobel

Related Works

Book:Nicholas Nickleby

Nicholas Nickleby

Charles Dickens

Adapted for theatre even before Dickens had finished writing his story, Nicholas Nickleby provides a delightful account of its hero’s confrontations with the pressing issues of Victorian society. We see the growth of a hero, as a large and varied cast of characters with an aim to amuse lead Nicholas Nickleby on adventures up and down the countryside, punishing the wicked, befriending the helpless, and falling in love.

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