Another version of the classic Dickens tale, with an all-star cast. Young Nicholas Nickleby (Charlie Hunnam) has to become the head of the family after his father dies leaving them penniless. In desperation, he turns to his uncle for help (Christopher Plummer), but this only leads the family into even more of a mess.
One of Charles Dickens' most popular novels, Nicholas Nickleby
returns to the big screen for the first time since the excellent 1947 Ealing version
in a visually breathtaking, lavishly produced new Hollywood interpretation. Following the honest and decent young Nicholas through a darkly oppressive Victorian England, the story moves from a grim boarding school to colourful adventures in the theatre and beyond, interweaving as many of Dickens' subplots and rich characters as possible into two hours. The little known Charlie Hunnam makes a spirited hero and is surrounded by such fine actors as Tom Courtenay, Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent (wonderful as the grotesque Wackford Squeers), Edward Fox, Juliet Stevenson and Jamie Bell.
This fast-paced film is never less than entertaining and is certainly by far the most handsome screen version of the story, sharing a life-enhancing energy with director Doug McGrath's previous Brit-lit adaptation, Jane Austen's Emma (1996). Inevitably much of the complexity and detail of the very long source novel has been sacrificed, and in this regard the 2000 TV version starring James D'Arcy has the advantage. Purists might be happier still with the acclaimed nine-hour 1982 RSC stage adaptation.
On the DVD: Nicholas Nickleby's first disc offers a superb anamorphically enhanced, 2.35:1 transfer. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is involving and atmospheric and makes the most of Rachel Portman's score. Also included is a very thoughtful and engaging commentary by McGrath, which adds a whole new level of appreciation to the film. Disc 2's most substantial extra is a solid 29-minute "making of" documentary featuring all the main cast and production personnel. The Life of Charles Dickens: "A Mirror to his Work" relates the book to Dickens' life with comments from the cast in an all-too-brief 12 minutes. The Cast on the Cast (16 minutes) features them chatting amiably on the afternoon of the New York premiere. Views on the Set simply produces five key shots from two different angles. The set is completed by a gimmicky trailer and a three-part photo gallery--a fair set of extras but not enough to call this edition truly special. --Gary S Dalkin