Nicholas Nickleby

on December 27, 2002 by Kim Williamson
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If there's one thing that Charles Dickens and his frequent adapters can manage, it's two-dimensional characters. In his Victorian novels, a person is either all good (e.g., Tiny Tim) or all bad (Daniel Quilp). That's certainly true in this new telling of "Nicholas Nickleby," originally serialized by the British author in March 1838-September 1839, by writer/director Douglas McGrath ("Emma"). But, like Dickens with his passages, McGrath crafts quite moving scenes throughout his resolutely dramatic variation on the novel, which a number of literary critics place in the comic genre. (As did the Golden Globes folks, who nominated this for best comedy of the year, obviously based on marketing notes, not screenings.)

A narrative description of the film is hardly hilarious: After his father dies penniless, a principled young Devonshire man (here, "Abandon's" Charlie Hunnam as Nicholas Nickleby) moves his sister Kate (Romola Garai) and mother to the big city to seek familial aid from a rich speculative financier, Uncle Ralph (Christopher Plummer). What follows is human torture, social humiliation, evil scheming, suicide by hanging, and sickness unto death. Now that's comedy. There's also romance and salvation and emotional uplift, both for the good guys in the film and for the audience in the theatre.

Blessed by an excellent cast and gorgeous cinematography by Dick Pope, filmmaker McGrath has created a film that, despite its characterization shortcomings, seems to grace the screen and all who view it, a rare accomplishment these days. Perhaps even more important than any other element, though, is the score by Rachel Portman ("Chocolat," "The Cider House Rules"), whose string-laden music seems to well up not so much from the speakers behind the screen as from deep inside one's soul. Starring Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Christopher Plummer, Romola Garai, Jim Broadbent, Juliet Stevenson, Nathan Lane and Edward Fox. Directed and written by Douglas McGrath. Produced by Simon Channing Williams, John N. Hart and Jeffrey Sharp. A United Artists release. Drama. Rated PG for thematical material involving some violent action and a childbirth scene. Running time: 108 min

Tags: Jamie Bell, Christopher Plummer, Romola Garai, Jim Broadbent, Juliet Stevenson, Charlie Hunnam, Nathan Lane, Edward Fox, Douglas McGrath, drama, adaptation, Charles Dickens
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