Nicholas Nickleby

There's a good reason why Christine Edzard's six-hour film of Little Dorrit and the Royal Shakespeare Company's nine-hour-plus stage production of The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby are among the most successful adaptations of Charles Dickens's novels: The sheer scope and breadth of these lengthy books need room to stretch out and breathe. But...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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There's a good reason why Christine Edzard's six-hour film of Little Dorrit

and the Royal Shakespeare Company's nine-hour-plus stage production of The

Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby are among the most successful adaptations

of Charles Dickens's novels: The sheer scope and breadth of these lengthy

books need room to stretch out and breathe. But if the 800-page Nicholas

Nickleby absolutely must be shoehorned into a two-hour feature film, this is

undoubtedly the way to go: Strip the story down to its barest essentials and

fill the inevitable gaps with as many colorful cameos as time will allow.

Nicholas Nickleby is born into a loving family in the pastoral heart of the

Devonshire countryside, but his childhood happiness is doomed to be

short-lived: His father first

loses the family savings, then suffers the further misfortune of dying,

leaving 19-year-old Nicholas (Charlie Hunnam) head of the remaining Nickleby

family, which includes his mother (Stella Gonet) and sister, Kate (Romola

Garai). They're all now entirely dependent on the slender mercy of Nicholas's

villainous Uncle Ralph (Christopher Plummer, at his slithery

best), who secures his nephew a position at Dotheboys Hall, a positively

wretched school for poor boys in the hinterlands of Yorkshire, run by

slobbering, sadistic, one-eyed schoolmaster Wackford Squeers (a wonderfully

loathsome Jim Broadbent) and his equally cruel wife (Juliet Stevenson).

Nicholas befriends young Smike (BILLY ELLIOT's Jamie Bell), a good-natured

soul whose legs have been badly crippled by countless beatings, and, appalled

by the abuse he sees around him — the boys are force-fed brimstone and

treacle, and routinely whipped — makes a daring escape. And not a moment

to soon, for meanwhile back in London, dear Uncle Ralph has thrown sister

Kate to the wolves, intending to marry her off to an aging bounder (Edward

Fox) in exchange for an outstanding debt. Writer-director Douglas McGrath

(EMMA) has managed to trim nearly all the novel's

subplots and secondary characters without losing its original shape. There's

still a bit of romance (THE PRINCESS DIARIES's Anne Hathaway plays Nicholas's

chief romantic interest) and a good deal of comedy, courtesy of Nathan Lane,

Alan Cumming and Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everage) as members of an

absurd theatrical troupe who try to pull Nicholas into their ranks. There's a

bit too much impassioned speechifying over Rachel Portman's swollen score,

but on the whole, it all goes down rather smoothly. Those left wanting more

are referred to the RSC's monumental production, now available on DVD, or

better yet, to Dickens's original novel.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: PG
  • Review: There's a good reason why Christine Edzard's six-hour film of Little Dorrit and the Royal Shakespeare Company's nine-hour-plus stage production of The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby are among the most successful adaptations of Charles Dickens's… (more)

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