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sparkling Dickensian effort
Buddy-5114 August 2003
Writer/director Douglas McGrath has done a splendid job bringing Charles Dickens' delightful novel 'Nicholas Nickleby' to the big screen.

'Nickleby' is quintessential Dickens in its mixture of sentiment and satire; its finely drawn characters and caricatures; its clear cut delineation of good and evil, hero and villain; its melodramatic and coincidence-ridden plotting; and its championing of the downtrodden underclass of 19th Century England. Like many of Dickens' protagonists, Nicholas is a young man who is forced by circumstances (in this case the death of his father) to leave the comfort and security of his home and family and to venture forth to make his way in the world. On his journey he meets many vivid and colorful characters, all of whom reveal to him both the goodness and the cruelty inherent in human nature. These picaresque tales almost always end up with the hero a bit wiser and less naïve for his experiences - but more committed than ever to righting wrongs and seeking justice for those less able to do so on their own. And 'Nicholas Nickleby' is no exception.

In his approach to the material, McGrath has employed an amazing economy that allows him to effectively compress a 500-page novel into a 2 hour and 12 minute film. With so much storyline to work with, McGrath wastes no time in setting the scene and defining the characters, then moving merrily along from one dramatic incident and encounter to the next. Yet, the film never feels rushed or telescoped as movies derived from lengthy novels so often do. Each character, whether major or minor, is given the opportunity to make his or her mark on the scene. It's true that, in Dickens' world, the villains and eccentrics are generally far more intriguing and memorable than the comparatively pallid heroes and heroines, but McGrath has succeeded in making even those latter characters moving and interesting. Above all, the film is blessed with a cast made up of first-rate performers who bring each of the author's creations to vivid life. Charlie Hunnam, despite his having to embody a character who is a fairly one-dimensional, conventional 'pretty boy,' manages to make Nicholas a bit more active and a bit less passive than he might have become in lesser hands. Nathan Lane and Barry Humphries make a delightful couple as Mr. and Mrs. Crummles, the leaders of the fifth-rate theatrical troupe that, for a short while, becomes a family for young Nicholas. Jim Broadbent enacts a fine comic villain as Mr. Squeers, the brutal but henpecked schoolmaster with whom Nicholas quite literally comes to blows. The film's finest performance comes from the ubiquitous Christopher Plummer as Nicholas' evil Uncle Ralph. Plummer understands that the key to conveying villainy effectively is by underplaying the role. By doing so, he helps to ground the film with a much-needed center of gravity.

Special recognition should go to the handsome production and costume design, to the fine cinematography and to the lovely score by Rachel Portman. In fact, everyone involved in the making of 'Nicholas Nickelby' should take a bow for converting such a fun, entertaining novel into such a fun, entertaining film. Dickens, I believe, would feel honored and proud.
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Wonderful adaptation, Horrendous Marketing
ferguson-619 January 2003
Greetings again from the darkness. Truly exceptional adaptation of Dickens really shows how terrific writing can allow a film to work. Yes, the cast was very capable and in fact, Christopher Plummer was multi-layered, pure evil as Uncle Ralph. The Squeers team of veterans Jim Broadbent and Juliet Stevenson made escape from their "school" seem the only rational approach. Charlie Hunnam is gorgeous and capable as Nicholas, and herein lies the problem. While not for the youngest of kids, those 12 and up would probably enjoy the movie very much. As a way to touch Dickens, this is easily the least painful and most accessible for 7th through 12th graders. Why aren't audience was filled with 40 and 50 somethings who read the novel growing up and a few (like me) brought teenagers with them. My daughter and her friends loved it! Very frustrating that studios will sink millions into drawing crowds for trash like "Planet of the Apes", "XXX", "Blue Crush", etc but almost nothing into this. Of course, this offers an education in story structure and the supporting casting was inspired. In addition to Hunnam, Anne Hathaway ("Princess Diaries"), Jamie Bell ("Billy Elliot"), Nathan Lane and Alan Cumming were all excellent. Tom Courtenay was funny and pitiful at the same time. Yes, the story is like much of Dickens, it provides hope for those who seem to have little. Good prevails over evil. Personally, I like that approach.
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England is lovingly represented in this film by a cinematography wedded to landscape.
jdesando8 January 2003
If Dickens were with us today, he would delight in the stock shenanigans of Michael Milken and the outrageous dysfunction of the Osbourne family. Speculation and family chaos rule his `Nicholas Nickleby,' directed on film by Douglas McGrath (`Emma') and starring Christopher Plummer as cold Uncle Ralph and Jim Broadbent as cruel Wackford Squeers.

The idyllic thatched cottage in Devonshire with its white smoke pluming to heaven contrasts sharply with the dark satanic mills of London spewing black smoke into every home and hovel. The eponymous hero, played by Brit TV star Charlie Hunnam, travels both worlds to defend the honor of his sister, overcome the tyranny of his uncle (Plummer), and find love. Along the way Broadbent's boarding-school proprietor, reflecting the workhouse slavery of 19th century England, helps his uncle sabotage Nickleby's spirit and endanger his best friend. But Nicholas also meets the delightful Cheeryble brothers, one of whom is Mike Leigh regular Timothy Spall in an uncharacteristically cheery role.

England is lovingly represented in this film by a cinematography wedded to landscape like a Constable painting, gentlemen appearing as stately as in a Reynolds, and women appearing to be sitting for Gainesboro. All seems well represented without being overdone or obvious.

Like a good Dickens novel, the filmed `Nicholas Nickleby' can't help but drive home lessons about honesty and family. Reliance on both will bring happiness. My only question is how did the Golden Globes ever nominate this as a comedy?
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Good Triumphs Over Evil
ccthemovieman-14 September 2007
Stunning photography, outrageous characters and a powerful, emotional story: that's Nicholas Nickleby, the 2002 adaptation from the famous book by Charles Dickens. I have not read that book, so this story was new to me and I couldn't help but be impressed.

Hopefully, most people are still satisfied to see good people triumph in the end. With a Dickens story, you know there will be a lot to overcome, too, and lots of suffering and heartache along the way to a happy ending.

Douglas McGrathdid a fine job directing this film. Dick Pope, director of photography (cinematographer) made England look as beautiful as any Merchant-Ivory film I've seen. Start-to-finish the landscape of England never looked prettier. Pope performed the same kind of magic two years later in "The Illusionist," a gorgeous-looking movie. Kudos to Rachel Portman for a magnificent score, too, with a beautiful, sweeping theme song. This movie is a treat for the ears, as well.

Charlie Hunnam as Nicholas Nickleby was adequate; Christopher Plummer as his Uncle Ralph was very good and Jamie Bell as the unforgettable "Smike" was excellent. It's hard to believe he's the same kid who played "Billy Elliott" just a couple of years ago.

Jim Broadbent and Juliet Stevens as the wicked, evil husband-and-wife-team who run DotheBoys Hall, a boys boarding school, were also memorable. Dickens also had cruel people mistreating little boys and these two personify cruelty.

Two beautiful women: Anne Hathaway's as Nicholas' love "Madeline Bray" and Romola Garai as his sister "Kate" were both pleasant and easy on the eyes. As for supporting actors, I enjoyed them all as well, getting an extra smile from Timothy Spall and Gerald Horan and "Charles and Ned Cherryble" The same can be said for Nathan Lane and Alan Cumming, who provide much-needed comic relief and whimsy.

I did not recognize Tom Courtenay as "Newman Noggs." I guess I still picture him from his younger and much thinner years. It's been almost 25 years since I last saw him in "The Dresser" and he's changed quite a bit.

One other thing that was fun to observe in this film: everyone's vocabulary! , I loved how they expressed themselves, the good and the bad people

Of the many well-put sentences delivered in this well-intentioned and high-minded film, I remember Nickleby saying near the end,

"Weakness is tiring, but strength is exhausting."
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A Very Good Dickens Adaptation
JamesHitchcock8 January 2007
With his complex plots and casts of (often literally) hundreds of characters, Charles Dickens might not seem the most cinema-friendly of novelists, but as of January 2007 no fewer than 235 works are credited on the IMDb as being based on his works, all the way back to "The Death of Nancy Sykes" in 1897. In recent years, however, most of these have been multi-part series made for television, a medium which often seems better equipped to deal with Dickens's complexities than does the cinema. The most popular of his works in the cinema has been "A Christmas Carol", which is a novella rather than a novel, followed by "Oliver Twist" and "Great Expectations", both of which are among his shorter novels, and which are often simplified for the screen. Roman Polanski's recent "Oliver Twist", for example, omitted many of Dickens's details and sub-plots in order to concentrate on the essence of the story.

"Nicholas Nickleby", by contrast, is one of Dickens's lengthier novels, so it was perhaps a brave move to adapt it for the screen. The title character is the son of an impoverished country gentleman. When his father dies heavily in debt, young Nicholas sets out for London with his mother and sister Kate, hoping that his wealthy uncle Ralph will be able to help them. Ralph, however, proves to be arrogant, cold-hearted and avaricious. He takes Kate into his home, motivated not by kindness but by the hope that he might be able to marry her off to his business associate, Sir Mulberry Hawke. He sends Nicholas to Yorkshire to work as an assistant teacher in a run-down boys' boarding school, run by a sadistic headmaster named Wackford Squeers. Nicholas is appalled not only by Squeers's ignorance but also by his neglect of and cruelty towards the boys in his care; he is eventually forced to leave the school after intervening to prevent Squeers beating a crippled boy named Smike, who will play an important role in future plot developments. After a brief interval as an actor, Nicholas returns to London to be reunited with his family.

Dickens's villains are generally more memorable than his heroes (and even more so than his heroines, who are often rather colourless), and that is reflected in this film. Even an actress as lovely as Anne Hathaway tends to fade into the background as the saintly Madeline, Nicholas's love-interest. Romola Garai is rather livelier as the spirited Kate, and Charlie Hunnam makes her brother an honourable and brave, if headstrong, hero. The performances that stand out, however, are from Jim Broadbent as the vicious Squeers, Juliet Stephenson as his equally unpleasant wife, Edward Fox as the dissipated lecher Sir Mulberry (who turns his attentions to Madeline when he realises that Kate is not for him) and Christopher Plummer as Ralph, outwardly calm and rational but inwardly cold and stony-hearted, a man who cares for nobody except himself and for nothing except his bank balance. It is noteworthy that Ralph's luxurious house is filled with stuffed animals and birds, presumably intended to symbolise his cruelty and sadism. The one piece of casting I didn't like was that of "Dame Edna Everage" (a creation of the Australian comedian Barry Humphries) as Mrs Crummles; the idea of a fictitious female character being played by another fictitious character, who is herself being played by a male actor, is a bizarre, almost surreal, one. The only place for a pantomime dame is in a pantomime.

There have been complaints on this board that some reviewers' favourite characters or episodes from the novel have been omitted from the film, but such simplification is inevitable if a nine hundred page novel is to be adapted into a feature film with a running time of just over two hours. What matters is that the feel of the film is authentically Dickensian, and this is achieved here, not only through the recreation, in best "heritage cinema" style, of the England of the 1840s, but also through the steadily growing sense that good will triumph over evil, that the heroes will be vindicated and that the villains will receive their just deserts. This is a very good Dickens adaptation, on a par with Polanski's film and much better than Alfonso Cuaron's eccentric "Great Expectations". 8/10
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Fantastic... Everything! Actors, Producers, Writers, etc.
Pevensies24 July 2007
Juliet Stevenson seems to be devoted acting as Mrs. Squeers. After her first appearance in the movie, I knew Mrs. Squeers was very odd, rude, and has her own way of dealing almost every matter. Mrs. Squeers is worse than Mr. Squeers, who Jim Broadbent acted as. Juliet made the character so realistic, which is practically needed for every character in every movie/TV show. I think it's just amazing how she and Jim Broadbent made the characters seem so real.

The movie is absolutely perfect for Juliet Stevenson and Jim Broadbent. I almost didn't recognize Jim the first time I watched the movie. Actually, I have the DVD and watched the Special Features. All the major actors had fun being in the movie together. Two of the actors have previously done a movie together. I can't remember who it was. Oh, it was Charlie Hunnam and Tom Courtenay. Of course, I cannot forget Anne Hathaway, Nathan Lane, Alan Cumming, and Jamie Bell as (from start to finish) Madeline, Vincent Crummles, Mr. Folair, and Smike. Now, they were also amazing as well. (Anne Hathaway, Nathan Lane, and Alan Cumming are my personal favorite actors.)

To be honest, the entire cast and crew of the movie were amazing. I barely noticed any mistakes; all actors made their characters realistic; the choreography is fantastic, and the directing/producing made the movie a hit, even though I didn't know about the movie until this year. My sister gave me this movie, Nicholas Nickleby, as a high school graduation gift. I have not yet stopped watching this movie. The movie was so well written, produced, and directed that I can't stop watching this movie. I've probably watched it at least five to eight times since the beginning of June.

Anyone who is anyone can watch Nicholas Nickleby and not cry or laugh. It might matter what kind of genre movies you're into, but I do recommend Nicholas Nickleby to everyone. This movie is just fantastic, and has many twists, turns, and shocking news. *Whispers.* But I won't go into that. You'll have to watch the movie.
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jotix10021 January 2003
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens is a rather complicated novel. To even try to put a dent on the narrative is a task for someone very ambitious indeed. The film treatment directed and written by Douglas McGrath tries to condense it. In many ways he has succeded.

The story of how Nicholas avenge his dead father and in the process finds love and happiness is told with great assurance from the director and his notable players, some of the most brilliant figures in the English stage and films.

Christopher Plummer as the evil uncle, Ralph Nickleby, is excellent. This is an actor's actor. He plays this villain with relish and a panache not easily found in many other actors. Jim Broadbent appears as the lunatic Wackford Squeers in another star turn. Another performance that is subtle, yet very effective is by Tom Courtenay, as Newman Noggs, who at the end helps Nicholas get to the truth. Juliet Stevenson plays Mrs. Squeers with the right amount of bitchiness and evil. How about Nathan Lane?. He is outstanding again, as is Barry Humphreys, playing his wife.

The only problem are the younger roles. Charlie Hunnan is a likeable performer, but out of his league in this company. The role of Smike, a key figure in the novel, is handled with the clumsiness the role requires by Jamie Bell. Anne Hathaway as Madeline Bray, and Ramola Garai as Kate, are adequate.

All in all this makes a pleasant occasion, if somehow tamed, at the movies.
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From Some1 Who Didn't Read the Book
foxly00727 June 2007
This is a film adaptation, if you follow what others said, an altered plot even *based* on the book. If you wanted to see the book dramatized, then I guess you'll be disappointed. But I, however, wanted to see Alan Cumming, so I rented it. I don't care that it's supposed to be Dickens. I had to convince my husband to watch it because he hated the book. In fact, ours would not be described as Dickens house. We are not fans. We don't attend literary societies and haven't gone to university for literature. Neither are we fans. The closest we can come to liking Dickens is Blackadder's Christmas Carol.

What our perceptions are, will not be so elite as my fellow commenters here, but if you want a straight unbiased perspective on this film, do read on.

We found the acting inspirationally good. We would stop at times to comment to one another how excellent the acting is. Especially when Nicholas gets into a fury over his sister in Hawk's face. When he gets angry at the schoolmaster, Squeers, is equally good. The actors did a great job and the film was at once both charming and idyllistic and at other times, cruel and unforgiving. It definitely portraits a time long since past, a way of thinking, the gentry and the way society was at the time within a fictional story written by Charles Dickens. This is another version written by someone else. Regardless, it has its own merits. There are ALWAYS elitists around to hen scratch at any and all adaptations of classic works to film and usually it looks to me to be on principle alone if nothing else. The last comment said the acting was terrible, but really, it was fantastic, so I don't think they even watched beyond like 15 minutes of the film or whatever point they believed it deviated from the book. Let's face it, I haven't even read the book, but I know it would take many hours of time like the extended versions of the complete Lord of the Rings to capture it faithfully, in which case I wouldn't have finished watching it because it would be a) too damn long and b) far too boring because it'd be faithfully like Dickens. This version is shorter and appeals to me a lot more than the drivel shoved down my throat in the classroom at an age when I actually appreciated classic literature far more. And to reinforce this point, I don't remember a damn thing from that, because it was so boring.

So it is NOT the faithfully adapted verbatim snorefest it would have been. It is a very good film. I think only Dickens fans will moan about it. Otherwise, no one else would have a problem with it. Everyone's a critic. I don't usually post here, hardly ever post anywhere. But this is a great film and I came here to IMDb just to see who played Nicholas. Ladies will want to watch it just for his looks <.<
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Dickens stripped bare... but still worthwhile because of a few good actors
MyAriel11 March 2005
Having read the novel NN a couple of times I know how rich and full of funny characters and episodes this novel is. This adaptation greatly reduces the number of events compared to the novel; though I understand a director has to make a choice what elements of a story he should put to the screen I think the director has been a bit too drastic in doing so. No reference at all to the Mantalini's, or to the downfall of the Squeerses and the closure of Dotheboys hall -I sorely missed those episodes! But what I missed story-wise was partly made up by the acting of Christopher Plummer as Ralph Nickleby and the heartrending performance of Jamie "Billie Elliot' Bell as Smike. A pity that the director also puts the accent mostly on the melodramatic aspects of a story which is full of delicious humor. This adaptation has it charms but check out the royal Shakespeare's Company's version for a faithful adaptation that does Dickens real justice!
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Enjoyable film
Gordon-1125 May 2007
This film is an adaptation of the famous Charles Dickens work of the same name.

I must say I have not read the book. I enjoyed the film a lot, and hence I was surprised by the overwhelmingly negative comments on this site. I found the characters likable, believable and distinctly human. I enjoyed the interaction between good and evil characters, especially between Nicolas and Ralph. The story is tightly woven, and there is not a scene where it is followed up later. The presence of Anne Hathaway is a surprise, and her English accent is excellent! I found the ending particularly moving, and I would certainly recommend this movie to other people.
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An original adaptation of a classic
yal-312 March 2009
This adaptation of the novel proves to be both original and entertaining. Without losing any of the uniquely Dickensian spirit of the novel, this film version manages to create a new take on a Dickens classic. By having Vincent Crummles,a relatively minor character in the original, take center stage and become the narrator/presenter of the opening and closing scenes of the film, the director offers his own slant on Dickens's love of theatre and theatricallity. To that end, the choice to cast Dame Edna as Crummles's wife is a brilliant one.

The other casting choices are also excellent. I found Jamie Bell's performance as Smike moving and accurate. What a far cry from "Billy Eliot", although his performance in that awful movie was the film's only saving grace.

This is a lesson in how to adapt a classic novel. Brilliant, fun and moving. I highly recommend it and not only to die hard Dickens fans.
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A breath of fresh air
mykus129 September 2005
In this day of intellectually devoid script writing where more effort is put into the special effects of explosions and the photo angle of the nude scenes, this picture focuses on an odd & almost forgotten concept; the telling of a story with a level of character development that inspires both love and hate in the audience. It is a movie with an adult theme with acting & dialog that does not depend on loud noises and car crashes to keep you interested. As a family show goes it could easily and safely be seen by children of all ages. Be prepared to grit your teeth and shed a tear while you hang on near every word spoken by these performers.
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a masterful adaptation
KatharineFanatic14 January 2003
I love stories with heroes that display courage, honor, and virtue. I think, to some degree, that is also why I'm an Anglophile (a lover of period films). Back in the Victorian era, honor and virtue were everything. Authors like Charles Dickens understood this, and often made his heroes out to be hardworking, compassionate young men caught up in a world of evil, lies, and cruelty. Dickens also had a profound effect through his novels on the English school system; he forced authorities to take a closer look at orphanages and boys' boarding schools. He would love this film.

'Nicholas Nickleby' is only the second adaptation and directorial triumph of Douglas McGrath. Based on this and his wonderful success with Emma, I hope he makes many more. He is one of the few directors who shows restraint when it is needed, and yet does not fail to make the conflicts within the hero's life suitably obvious. He makes us loathe and hate the villains without being subjected to graphic material, which is something sadly lacking in many Hollywood films. As a director, I admire his work. As a writer, I admire it even more. The dialogue here is poetic, sometimes wrought with wit, and always impacting.

There are, interwoven with this deep drama, splashes of humor -- the theatre troupe's production of Romeo & Juliet, some of the banter between Uncle Ralph and his tipsy but goodhearted clerk, even some dry reactions from the one-eyed Squeers. The casting is brilliant. Chrisopher Plummer plays Uncle Ralph with such tainted pleasure that we learn to loathe him, but also in the end to pity the mess he has made of his life. Charlie Hunnam, in the role of Nicholas, is exceptional; few young men can blend in with a Victorian environment. Like Helena Bonham-Carter, he was born to star in costume dramas. Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries) and Jamie Bell, along with an enormous supporting cast (everyone from Nathan Lane to Nicholas Rowe) were superb. There's not a weak actor in the lot.

The hero is in every way above reproach -- he refutes lies with a swift tongue, takes compassion on his enemies, and shows justice to one and all. The world would be a better place if more young men were raised with the same high standard of honor and virtue as Nicholas Nickleby.
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Dickens would have been proud of this movie!
Red-12511 January 2003
"Nicholas Nickleby" is the pluperfect Dickens novel. Dickens gives us a cross section of Victorian society--rich and poor, good and evil, comfortable and wretched.

The film does justice to this masterpiece-- the children suffering under a cruel schoolmaster appear truly sick, hungry, and miserable. The crowd scenes are handled well, the locations look authentic, and the acting is outstanding.

Charlie Hunnam handles the relatively straightforward role of Nicholas Nickleby very well. Romola Garai as Kate Nickleby and Anne Hathaway as Madeline Bray are both suitably charming.

Juliet Stevenson is remarkable as the sadistic Mrs. Squeers, and Jim Broadbent is superb as her (truly) loving husband, the equally sadistic Wackford Squeers.

Christopher Plummer portrays the evil uncle, Ralph Nickleby, to perfection. Plummer's acting should earn him an Oscar nomination. This part may finally put to rest our memories of the man who was wrong, wrong, wrong for Julie Andrews in "Sound of Music."

If you love Dickens, you will love this film. See it right away.
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As Good as the Original 1903 Film!
lawprof15 January 2003
"Nicholas Nickleby" is a superb ensemble drama with each cast member holding his or her own. But...Christopher Plummer is first amongst equals as his portrayal of the evil Uncle Ralph uncovers, layer by layer, a heart immune to love and a mind and will steeped in extravagant deceit and viciousness. Plummer's egotistic and malign speculator lacks, until the end of the story, the slightest insight into the depravity of his life. But when realization ineluctably dawns, Plummer's intense acting blasts from the screen figuratively lowering the theater temperature with a gripping chill.

Charles Dickens, of course, had a special interest in the conditions of life for both children in general and those, losing fortunes through no fault of their own, who descend to early nineteenth century England's dank houses (and schools) of horror. What a school young Nicholas is apprenticed to by his uncle! Seeing the squalor and cruelty of that school will make every filmgoer glad he/she lives in the age of "No Child Left Behind."

Nicholas Nickleby's sister must endure the slimy advances of Uncle Ralph's investor friend. Their mother is, as would be said in genteel circles, in "reduced" circumstances. Ralph's valet/aide-de-camp is a former gentleman now daily humiliated by his arrogant boss who wallows in hubris and dispenses insults like exhaled breaths. A crippled lad is mocked and beaten.

Nathan Lane deserves special mention as a wandering impresario with wit and warmth.

Well, I have to be honest. I'm the sort of fellow who in truth must borrow from Oscar Wilde and say that "A man must have a heart of stone to watch the travails of the Nicklebys and not laugh." But no one else did in the theater. Hmmm.

Rachel Portman composed a fine score for this well-directed and excellently shot film. For a rare change the score does not constantly intrude.

Masterpiece Theaterish and Merchant Ivorish it is. That's praise. This is a very good adaptation of a Dickens classic very few young people read today.

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This Little Nikki is on fire!
meeza22 January 2004
I would have bet a multitude of nickels that the period comedy `Nicholas Nickelby' would not be worth a nickel. However, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with this entertaining enchanting film based on the Dickens novel. Charlie Hunman stars as Nicholas, a determined British lad who suddenly becomes the caretaker of his impecunious family after his father's death. The supporting thespian work here is strong: the word has leaked that Christopher Plummer's role as the malevolent uncle who manipulates Nicholas and his family did not go down the drain; Jim Broadbent again bents all the rules of aesthetic acting by playing the vanity-challenged boarding schoolmaster with the scrupulous temperament that only Broadbent can deliver. `Nicholas Nickelby's' clever screenplay and fluctuating direction came just in the nick of time to what might have seemed to be standard period comedy scenes. `Nicholas Nickelby' is filled with surprises, spirit, and cheers. Isn't that what a St. Nick always seems to deliver? **** Good
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Historical drama doesn't have to be this dull...
mrchaos336 July 2003
The main thing that this movie suffers from is that it has been condensed to an almost absurd degree. The copy that sits on my shelf clocks in at over 900 pages, written by Charles Dickens with great energy and humor. Director (and frequent Woody Allen collaborator) Douglas McGrath trims the story down to a commercial length, and revs up the pace to an astonishing degree. This film seems like it is in a hurry to get to the closing credits, which in one sense is great because it's not very good.

The movie begins with Young Nicholas (Charlie Hunnam) and his family enjoying a comfortable, idyllic life. The idyll comes to an end when Nicholas's father dies, leaving the family bankrupt. Nicholas, his sister and mother journey to London to seek help from their Uncle Ralph (Christopher Plummer), but Ralph's only goal is to separate the family and take advantage of them. Nicholas is sent to teach at a ramshackle school run by the merciless Wackford Squeers (Jim Broadbent). Eventually, Nicholas runs away with schoolmate Smike (Jamie Bell), and the two set off to bring the Nickleby family back together.

There are some good elements. Christopher Plummer is worth watching as the wicked uncle. Nathan Lane is interesting. Dame Edna as his wife is fun to watch, but by and large the film is beige. Just average. In the title role of Nicholas is Charlie Hunnam a British television actor who made his name on Queer As Folk, and unfortunately he's not very interesting. As the central character you have to want to watch him. You have to care about his character. You have to want him to succeed. You have to want him to marry the right girl. You have to want all that for him, and you don't.

The problem is that while you are traveling with him you meet all sorts of characters that are far more interesting than the central character. You want to say, ‘Nick, you go on. We're going to stay here for a while.'

Historical drama doesn't have to be this dull. Dickens is brimming with juicy characters and interesting plots, if only the filmmakers had trusted the source material, a book that has been delighting people since 1839.
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george.schmidt30 December 2002
NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (2002) ***1/2 Charlie Hunnam, Christopher Plummer, Jamie Bell, Jim Broadbent, Anne Hathaway, Tom Courtenay, Alan Cumming, Edward Fox, Romola Garai, Stella Gonet, Barry Humphries, Nathan Lane, Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson. Wonderfully entertaining realization of Charles Dickens' literary classic about the good natured 19th Century titular young man (nicely played by the dashingly handsome Hunnam of late of the beloved tv series `Undeclared') whose adventures of the heart and destiny begin when his father suddenly dies leaving him in the care of his family resorting to their only living relation in London, the wealthy yet contemptable Uncle Ralph (Plummer in game form; disdainfully dour) whose life ambition outside of accumulating wealth apparently is to make his nephew's existence a living hell. Hunnam is in splendid company of the cream of the crop of British acting with a few Americans sprinkled in the mix (the fetching Hathaway as his destined love and amiable ham Lane as the leader of a traveling acting troupe) of this remarkable adaptation by filmmaker Douglas McGrath.
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Watch the 2001 mini series instead!
alicefinklestein7 February 2006
I really disliked this movie, so much so I watched sometime last year and was so annoyed I couldn't sit down and write a review.

I saw The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby before this and absolutely loved it. This version had some actors I liked Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent, Juliet Stevenson, Timothy Spall amongst others but their roles were not at all large enough to make this film worth watching if you happen to be a fan of any of them.

So what were my qualms? Well I have read half the book, it is rather large so you must excuse me not finishing yet, I will eventually. It is very good though, there is this beautiful paragraph in the second chapter where Dickens describes an area near Ralph Nickleby's house which could never be communicated in film, so you should read it too. Anyway, point being, I know enough to know there were a lot of inaccuracies. Now this wouldn't matter if it didn't affect the overall atmosphere. I can't remember many things, it's mainly a blurry haze of hatred, but I do remember Wackford's school was not a school, it was in fact a shed, it was especially not s school with stupid slogans painted on the walls. The film also seemed very choppy. I thought that it was rather promising when it started and they started from the very beginning in the book, but alas, this part (which was not in the in 2001 version) was well made up for by cutting out other the Mantalinis...I don't recall them being there, which is a damn shame! The lead actor was not good at all and as for good looking, well I don't think many people can pull off blonde hair and dark eyebrows and on another note I'm not sure whether any one has mentioned I got the slight inkling the actor was not entirely straight... I know he has been married and all but he just seemed rather effeminate which I found very distracting.

There were a few characters whose stories were greatly reduced to the point they were rather two-dimensional, like Madaline Bray. She just turned into this running, weeping woman of mystery, not well acted either.

Now, Jamie Bell, I don't think one could dispute his acting talents, but well perhaps he was too young to tackle such a profoundly haunted character such as Smike. I think Lee Ingleby's performance much better captured it.

Well I've lost my steam. I did not like this film. If you haven't seen it, don't.
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Whoever made this should read the book!
benbrae7630 December 2006
I have to agree with the comments made by anne2knunn and Edina van Daalen. This is a pretty unimpressive and woefully skeletonized adaptation of a wonderful story. Gone is the rich tapestry of Dickensian characters. Miss Snevilicci, the Kenwigs, the Mantolinis, Miss Knag, The Wititterlys, Tim Linkinwater, Peg Sliderskew, Mr Lillyvick, Miss Petowker and others. Even the main players who are left are shallow interpretations. The plot is drastically altered to accommodate this skeletonization, and the whole story is turned into a nonsense. Gone also is the fatal duel between Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Verisopht, the outcome of which is one of the main reasons for Ralph Nickleby's fall. Also gone is Arthur Gride, Madeline Bray's prospective albeit unwanted bridegroom, and NOT Sir Mulberry Hawk as portrayed here. Another change is that the Brays were originally placed as living in the Rules of the King's Bench debtor's prison, and although perhaps not so important with regard to the storyline, exactly why the producers deemed it necessary to alter this point (or any other parts of the story) is beyond me. The Brothers Cheeryble are made to look like discards from the Wizard of Oz, and whoever thought up the idea of Barry Humphries playing Mrs Crummles must have been on magic mushrooms. No mention is given to the ultimate fate of the Squeers family or the school, and the closing scenes include the Crummles, who, according to the novel, have by this time emigrated to America.

As to the actual movie per se, it is plodding, patchy, and utterly uninspiring. With one exception, the cinematography (and even that isn't great), I tried, but failed, to find one saving aspect of the movie. Even the acting is at best mediocre, at worst atrocious. Relatively non-essential parts of the story are kept in, whilst other essential details of the story are cut out. In short, what promises at the start to be a reasonable production, turns out to be more than a bit of a mess, and somewhat of an insult to Dickens, and the lovers of his works. For me, this movie has to be one of the worst adaptations of a Dickens story ever made, and if Charles Dickens himself were to watch it from his celestial armchair, I'm quite sure he would pull out most of his celestial hair. Give yourselves a real treat and watch the RSC version instead.
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Total garbage
pogostiks2 September 2012
How this version could have received a score of 7.2 is almost beyond imagination - except that nowadays the young people have such crap to watch generally that they are perhaps incapable of judging properly! So they vote with their eyes for Charlie Hunnam and are impressed by the list of well-known actors who generally do a good job... and who all should hang their heads in shame for being part of this enterprise. Christopher Plummer is wooden, Jamie Bell is wasted in this as his character is barely developed, Mr Hunnam is woefully miscast as he doesn't have an ounce of credibility in any of his scenes. The only ones who come out of this without damage to their reputations are Tom Courtney, who plays his role believably at least, and the duo of Nathan Lane and Barrie Humphries (basically recreating his Dame Edna Everage personage)... these two succeed where everyone else fails because they are never to be taken seriously anyway, but are simply characters in the theatre of the absurd, and so fit in perfectly with the rest of this terribly terribly feeble attempt at bringing Dickens' characters to life.

If you want to watch an excellent version of this story, watch the 2001 film with James D'Arcy in the title role. Everything that is wrong with the 2002 film will become evident in watching this far superior version!
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Thank God, I wasn't born a poor mite during the Victorian era!
janyeap2 January 2003
Director Douglas McGrath brings Dickens' 1830s not-so-merry Victorian England direct to the screen, offering the author's attacks on social evils, injustice, corruption, youth oppression, and hypocrisy of the Industrial Age. That Victorian era is vividly revealed in a wonderful pace without either flashy nihilism or hip-hop angst to keep the story interesting. The film substance follows Dickens' spirit and moods all the way... as if to scream out his indignation and outrage against the inhumanity of the times. A faithful account of the times of one of Dickens' most successful novels! And definitely it's an artful blend of the tragic and the comic!

The themes come powerfully well on screen. The power of money is shown to either corrupt those who have it, or to destroy those who don't. It's goodness of heart crusading against social injustices. Two characters – Ralph Nickleby and Nicholas Nickleby – offer a profound insight into two totally different expectations of life. Oh yes, the film does succeed in presenting the viewers with what seems to be Dickens' satire of three different sets of environment: the world of the London moneylender, that of the Yorkshire school (hey, Yorkshire schoolmasters were deemed to be notoriously evil in the Victorian era), and of the touring stage company (somewhat theatrical, no doubt, but still interesting for Dickens did have a keen eye for the stage!)

With a great top-notch British, Canadian and American ensemble of actors whose team interaction is of a classic quality, this film is worth taking time off to see. This film is rich with witty dialogue and pathos beaming out of a superb drama. It leaves one with momentary chuckles despite the overwhelming bleakness of events.

Charlie Hunnam's performance of noble Nicholas is solid, offering a heroic character of absolute conscience as presented in the novel. Christopher Plummer's avaricious miser and Jim Broadbent's unscrupulous Wackford Squeers are so viciously bizarre. Alan Cumming, Nathan Lane and Timothy Spall are there to provide comic relief to balance out the complex grotesquerie of the tale. Edward Fox's Sir Mulberry Hawk is all slime. Anne Hathaway's Madeline is delightful to watch. Juliet Stevenson's Mrs. Squeers is totally inhuman. But it's Jamie Bell's pitiful Smike and Romola Garai's Kate who succeed in stressing the wickedness of the societal system of those days. Excellent performances with enormous on-screen chemistry floating all round! And every background setting is well established to coincide with the moods and spirits of the events and characters.

If the characters seem unreal to modern day life, don't blame McGrath. He has subjected his viewers to a `staged' puppet show with cardboard characters at the beginning, as if to prompt his viewers to expect the story's characters as coming out of some popular past entertainment. We can't deny that the colorful characters do belong to Dickens' imagination and they do fit into the abusively distasteful social ills and failures of the 19th Century Industrial Age.

A great film for the family! Director McGrath has truly captured the mores of Charles Dickens' days!

Would certainly hope to see some of the talented actors nominated for the Oscars!!
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Nickleby for a new generation
bkoganbing5 May 2015
Charles Dickens classic Nicholas Nickleby gets a fine remake in this 2002 version with Charles Hunnam in the title role. Definitely the prettiest Nickleby you'll find in any version. I would expect nothing less from a star in Queer As Folk. He and Anne Hathaway certainly make an attractive pair of lovers.

In fact though Hunnam's very bisexual appeal gives an added dimension to this version. The relationship with young Smike played tenderly and touchingly by Jamie Bell is what drives this particular story. The best scene in the film is the death scene of the crippled and sickly Smike with Jamie Bell giving so far a career role performance.

Hunnam's antagonist throughout the film is his Uncle Ralph played by Christopher Plummer. He's the rich older brother of Hunnam and Romola Garai's father who makes out like he's interested in their welfare. In fact he sends young Nicholas to a cruel school run by Jim Broadbent and his wife Juliet Stevenson. As for Garai he essentially uses her as a come on to rich and dissolute minor nobility so they'll invest with his brokerage house.

After giving Broadbent a well deserved thrashing Nicholas escapes the school with the crippled and sickly Bell. There is definitely a very homoerotic tinge to their relationship in their scenes together. In his short life Bell has experienced nothing but cruelty. Basically he falls in love with the first person who has shown him kindness and the fact that Hunnam is one beautiful twink is a bonus. All their scenes are beautifully played and will move you to tears.

As for the end, let's say a lot of Plummer's sins come back to haunt him in the end and the Nickleby name is no longer disgraced. This is a wonderful version of the Dickens classic with an outstanding performance by Jamie Bell.
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Well worth seeing although the script is a little weak
Rozinda14 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This is not one of my favourite Dickens stories but any Dickens is worth pursuing. So I'm marking this against other Dickens productions too.

The older actors are all outstanding. You mightn't think Barry Humphries could make a convincing "wife" in a "serious film" but he certainly does and I think Dickens, a fine actor himself, would have loved this performance.

I was a little disappointed by some of the younger actors - they aren't quite up to the standard of their elders although they make a reasonable go of it. Perhaps the problem is partly that they had such a formidable cast of older actors to live up to. For Nicholas I would have preferred to see the acting depth of say Steven Mackintosh who gave such a brilliant performance as the hero John in Our Mutual Friend - which version is also one of my most favourite Dickens dramatisations, the other being the incomparable Tale of Two Cities with Dirk Bogarde.

Nicholas is a feisty young man who stands up for himself and reasons out how to proceed and gains results. He isn't much a victim of events. The actor wasn't quite dynamic enough for the achievements the character manages. There wasn't enough on his love life either - that was settled just too briefly and easily. Oh, there you were, I knew, now let's get married. Not much more than that! Of all the actors, Christopher Plummer stood out for me as Ralph Nickelby. What a superlative actor he is! And also James Fox as the horrible predatory lecher - full of menace. I felt the girl who was to be forced to marry him escaped the net much too easily. We needed more tension, more fear, more horror but it seemed Nicholas walked in, told off Fox and Ralph and she said "I thought it was the best thing to do, to get my father's debt cancelled, but OK I won't worry about that now," and out she strolled with Nicholas, leaving the villains staring after them - and there was no comeback.

I felt the denouement happened rather suddenly - I needed more time to see the evidence being gathered against Ralph and Plummer wasn't given quite enough time to deal with all the final revelations and most particularly the discovery that his son had lived but also had been badly treated for years and recently had died. We needed more about his background that is now revealed, and just what swindling he'd been up to - in more detail that is.

These flaws are partly due to the usual length and complexity of Dickens' plots but there are shorter adaptations of Dickens that work well. All in all, there wasn't enough tension around the hero. Things went far too easily for Nicholas. I compare this quite light Dickens film to the grindingly grim and exciting tension of some notable Dickens' adaptations I've particularly liked - Our Mutual Friend, David Copperfield, Tale of Two Cities,Little Dorritt 2 versions, Bleak House 2 versions. Nickleby misses somewhat - because of the scripting.

That said, it's hard to fail with a Dickens adaptation and I commend this as well worth seeing once though I doubt twice.
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Impossible to condense into 2 hours - still, a good try
jtrascap-114 October 2007
It's not bad - it's not the RSC production everyone unfairly compares it to, but it's as entertaining as a 2 hour version can be expected to be. Sound like faint praise, but really - keep your expectations honest and you'll enjoy it.

I've sat through the RSC's 9-hour event (twice in the theater and I own the DVD set) and yes - it's a more faithful interpretation, but that doesn't diminish this version. I do have some issues with the casting, primarily Jaime Bell as Smike and Charlie Hunnam. Bell is just far too healthy, too good-looking to play the battered, pitiful Smike. Hunnam is just a bit too gee-whiz, too bright-eyed throughout - in a word, lightweight. It's an interesting balance in the way these two are portrayed; in the RSC plays, Nicholas is almost a step-parent, in the movie, more a brother; I do prefer the former balance.
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