When young Nell Trent's (Sally Walsh's) grandfather (Sir Peter Ustinov) loses the investment money of wharf owner Daniel Quilp (Sir Tom Courtenay) with cards, Quilp develops an everlasting urge to get him put in the madhouse. Nell and her grandfather flee the city.
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Nell Trent lives with her grandfather, the proprietor of the Old Curiosity Shop. Grandfather has a disquieting secret, a gambling addiction fed by high-interest loans from the bully Daniel Quilp. The villainous Quilp wants to get possession of the shop, and Nell. In league with his lawyer Samson Brass and Samson's sister Sally, Quilp seizes Grandfather's assets. But Nell organizes an escape from the shop in the dead of night, and she and Grandfather begin a harrowing odyssey through the English countryside with their nemesis in hot pursuit. Convinced that there is a family fortune to be gained, Nell's brother Fred and his friend Dick Swiveller join in the chase. Meanwhile, Nell and Grandfather encounter a slew of eccentric characters, including Mrs. Jarley, who runs a lurid traveling waxworks where Nell and Grandfather earn a meager wage for a brief time. Nell and her grandfather are eventually forced to beg for survival. Will Nell's young friend Kit Nubbles and a mysterious stranger ...
I like this recent, surprisingly short (given the length of the novel) adaptation of Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop. There are a fair number of negative reviews and comments here and I really can't argue with them. Film is so much a matter of taste. I caught this one at the right time. It drew me in.
What impressed me most perhaps was less the story itself than the film's evocation of early 19th century London. Director Brian Percival and his associates deserve a lot of praise for the ambiance; and the actors and their costumes were well matched. This is (for me) a rare occasion as one of the reasons I seldom watch recent adaptations of classic fiction is that everything looks too modern; the actors don't look at ease in the setting; and there's always something contemporary feeling threatening to take the movie over entirely. I didn't get this here.
In terms of style and content this version of The Old Curiosity Shop evoked memories of the series of low budget horror films Val Lewton produced in Hollywood back some seventy years ago. It's not a horror picture, but what happens to the children in the story is often horrifying; and the tone is nearly seductively dark, with hints of all manner of perversion lurking on the sidelines. At its best the film plays like a first rate B movie. I mean that as a compliment. It's very good, not great, but then I don't sense that it was aiming that high.
Oops! The story. It's awfully complicated and would take nine more paragraphs to properly summarize. It's basically about how greed and poverty destroyed the innocence of children in the London of Dickens' era; and how good men doing bad things can do as much harm as bad men doing same. In other words, to paraphrase a famous thinker, all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing about it. Worse yet, if good men aren't pro-active in their virtue, vigilant about it, as the grandfather in this story is not, the terms of their lives shall be dictated by men up to no good. This is a lesson worth learning.
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