Nicholas Nickleby


Directed by: Douglas McGrath
Written by:Douglas McGrath
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Anne Hathaway, Juliet Stevenson, Timothy Spall, Alan Cumming, Nathan Lane, Dame Edna Everage, Edward Fox
Released: November 20, 2003
Grade: B+

I’ve always wanted to write a review for a film like this with elegant English prose.  Unfortunately, it’s a talent I severely lack so I’ll save the effort and not lose track.  I haven’t read a single Charles Dickens novel before and was surprised by the welcome introduction which preceded this film at the advance screening I attended.  Instead of the usual trailers and advertisements, a volunteer from a bookstore stood in front of the sold out audience and read some passages from the great novel.  It idyllically set the mood, the lights dimmed and it all began.

Nicholas Nickleby (Hunnam), his sister and mother have been burdened by the untimely death of their father.  With almost no money left, the family has gone to London to plead help from Uncle Ralph (Plummer).  Ralph arranges employment for Nicholas as a teacher at school for boys.  The principal is the evil Wackford Squeers (Broadbent) who, along with his wife (Stevenson), treat the boys with utter distaste.  Nicholas befriends an orphan named Smike (Bell) and the two become inseparable.

They both flee the horrible institution and come across a small acting troop lead by Vincent Crummles (Lane).  He finds a part for both Nickleby and Smike in his latest performance of Romeo & Juliet and the two find happiness for the first time in a long while.  It is all short-lived when Nickleby gets word that his sister is in trouble and Smike finds out that Squeers wants him back.

It’s an enjoyable story and many people before me have read the novel and felt the same.  This isn’t the first film adaptation and it won’t be the last.  Strangely, it’s taken twelve months for its release in Australia.  The film was nominated for best comedy/musical at last year’s Golden Globe Awards with Adaptation, About A Boy, Chicago and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  When you consider all those films are no available to rent on video, you’ll appreciate just how long a wait it has been.

I could say something positive about the entire ensemble so let’s begin.  Charlie Hunnam is a star on the rise and is wonderful in his first major cinematic role.  It’s the first film I’ve seen Jamie Bell in since Billy Elliot (a personal favourite) and he proves his BAFTA best actor award win three years ago was not undeserved.  I’ve followed Christopher Plummer ever since The Insider and he’s perfectly cast.  I only recently raved about Timothy Spall in Gettin’ Square but here is his again in a fun role.  Nathan Lane’s one of the funniest in the business and does his reputation no harm.  I’m running out of space here but I’ve got to include Jim Broadbent (Topsy-Turvy), American Anne Hathaway, Alan Cumming and even, wait for it, Dame Edna Everage.

There’s a sweet score from Rachel Portman who worked with writer-director Douglas McGrath on Emma (which starred Gwyneth Paltrow).  Before I get too carried away, the criticisms should be overlooked.  It’s difficult to cram a famous novel into a little over two hours but even so, the ending feels strained and drawn out.  The delightful comedy, which gave Nicholas Nickleby its edge in the first half, falls away and the dramatic finale needed more life.

It’ll always hard to drag audiences to period piece movies and this’ll be no exception.  So do try hard to keep it’s a film you’d like to see.