Brrrrrr. It's palpably cold as the English winds wail in NICHOLAS NICKLEBY,
by EMMA's director Douglas McGrath. Although initially there's typically
Dickensian cruelty around every corner, eventually the forces of good
prevail, and the evil are smitten.
Nicholas Nickleby (Charlie Hunnam) is a "19-year-old and head of his
family." His father lost his fortune and, soon thereafter, his life due to
"speculation." Having a mother and a sister to care for, Nicholas turns to
his father's brother, Ralph (Christopher Plummer), for assistance. Ralph, a
nefarious businessman who fleeces his investors, has anything but the
family's good in mind. Ralph sends Nicholas to teach at an inhumane school
-- Are there any other kind in Dickens's stories? -- run by Wackford Squeers
(Jim Broadbent) and tries to use Nicholas's sister, Kate (Romola Garai), as
a tool to open investors' wallets. Ralph is a bit of a philosopher of the
dark side. "People who wish to be thought of as good are always weak," he
muses to Squeers.
The film is extremely well cast, especially in the large number of
supporting roles. As radiant as ever, Anne Hathaway (THE PRINCESS DIARIES)
plays Madeline Bray, Nicholas's love interest. Jamie Bell (BILLY ELLIOT)
does a moving turn as Smike, a cripple who becomes Nicholas's best friend.
Nathan Lane is hilarious as Vincent Crummles, the head of a small acting
company with boundless energy. Alan Cumming plays Mr. Folair, one of
Vincent's actors. Mr. Folair's modest ambition is to finally get to perform
his beloved Highland fling on stage. In possibly the most charming part,
Timothy Spell plays one half of a pair of Tweedledum and Tweedledee business
brothers who come to Nicholas's aid.
"What happens if we lose a parent, that party on whom we rely for --
everything?" Vincent asks at the end of our tragedy. In Nicholas's case, he
fights this adversity and triumphs in the end. The tale that starts off so
darkly ends happily and, one hopes, forever after.
NICHOLAS NICKLEBY runs 2:12. It is rated PG for "thematic material
involving some violent action and a childbirth scene" and would be
acceptable for kids around 10 and up. Younger children might be okay, but
the film is probably too intense for them, and there is a whipping scene
that will likely frighten them.
My son Jeffrey, age 13, gave it ***. He said that it was well made and well
cast, especially in the role of Nicholas. He liked the twists in the story,
particularly the last big one.
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes