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“Nicholas Nickleby”

Hathaway is just one member of a young but exceptional cast in this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ lengthy novel Nicholas Nickleby. Hathaway plays Madeline Bray, a destitute young woman who captures the attention of Nicholas Nickleby (Charlie Hunnam), recently come to London with his mother and sister after the death of his beloved father.

They’ve both starred with Anne Hathaway-Andrews in last year’s “The Princess Diaries” and Plummer in the current “Nicholas Nickleby.”

Hathaway is just one member of a young but exceptional cast in this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ lengthy novel Nicholas Nickleby. Hathaway plays Madeline Bray, a destitute young woman who captures the attention of Nicholas Nickleby (Charlie Hunnam), recently come to London with his mother and sister after the death of his beloved father.

The Nicklebys, left without much to fall back on, approach the dead father’s wealthy brother, Ralph (Plummer), for help. Ralph, however, courts people like he does investments: icily, unforgivingly, inhumanly almost. Ralph, who conducts affairs from his large house stuffed with dead birds and other lifeless creatures, sends Nicholas’ sister, Kate, to work for a dressmaker and Nicholas to teach at an awful boys school run by Wagford Squeers (Jim Broadbent) and his wife.

Thus, the Nickleby family, already bereaved of a loving husband and father, is scattered to the wind by Uncle Ralph. The rest of the movie chronicles Nicholas’ attempts to rebuild a family after his own is broken apart-first through the untimely death of his father, and then through the dastardly dealings of his own uncle.

Nicholas journey starts rather darkly. Dotheboys School, where he is sent to teach, is dark, grimy, mean-all things Dickensian and pointed markers of the author’s social conscience. Squeers doesn’t teach boys; he exploits them. And he mistreats one in particular: Smike, a cripple portrayed in a restrained and effective performance by Jamie Bell (best known for his role as “Billy Elliot”).

Nicholas befriends Smike and vows to rescue him from the hell of Dotheboys and the Squeers.

Meanwhile, back in London, Kate Nickleby is going through her own hell. Ralph holds women in about the same esteem as he does the dead birds in his parlor. Ralph’s friends sexually harass Kate, and when Ralph tries to “console” her, one is reminded again of Plummer’s theatrical skill.

About halfway through the film, Nicholas and Smike fall in with the Crummles, a theater family that accomplishes two things for the film: They lighten its mood and extend its length.

Since “Nickleby” needs the former but not the latter, the Crummles’ contribution is mixed (director Doug McGrath insists they’re necessary, going so far as to give the film’s narration to Nathan Lane’s  Vincent Crummles).

The Cheerybles, businessmen and twins, also add a dash of whimsy to the otherwise dark story, and their presence is welcomed. In the end, however, it’s all about young Nicholas and old Ralph, and the ways in which each repulses the other: Nicholas with his love for family, and Ralph with his apparent disdain of it.

McGrath and crew put together a terrific ensemble cast and made them breathe the thick air of Dickensian England. The weighty score by Rachel Portman adds further atmosphere to the film.

Scenes zip right along, at least early in the film. But the Crummles, funny though they are, do prolong the inevitable-a showdown between Ralph and Nicholas.

“Nickleby” concerns itself with important themes, the most obvious of which is family. And Nicholas is not above resorting to violence to defend the honor and safety of those he loves.

And the person who stands tallest in his way is his own flesh and blood: Uncle Ralph.

At one point, when an acquaintance of Ralph’s asks him to lighten up, Ralph responds: “The world already knows what kind of man I am, and I do not grow poorer.”

Not financially, but humanly and emotionally-yes, he does grow poorer.

At film’s end, Ralph is confronted with his own poverty, and he realizes just how poor he’s always been. It’s then that Nicholas, and the family he’s built, stand in their sharpest contrast to pathetic Uncle Ralph.

McGrath’s “Nicholas Nickleby” is a character, and story, for generations to come. It’s a family film, in more ways than one.


Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director for EthicsDaily.com.


Visit the movie’s official Web site at http://www.nicholasnickleby.com/

MPAA Rating:  PG for thematic material involving some violent action and a childbirth scene.

Director: Doug McGrath

Writer: Doug McGrath, based on a novel by Charles Dickens

Cast: Nicholas Nickleby: Charlie Hunnam; Ralph Nickleby: Christopher Plummer; Smike: Jamie Bell; Madeline Bray: Anne Hathaway; Crummles: Nathan Lane; Mrs. Crummles: Barry Humphries.