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Laramie Movie Scope:
Nicholas Nickelby

Charles Dickens' classic story rides again

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 8, 2003 -- "Nicholas Nickelby" is a new re-telling of the classic Charles Dickens tale with a great cast and high production values. Highlights are the terrific performances by Christopher Plummer, as the prime villain, and Nathan Lane as Vincent Crummles, the eccentric theater company manager. This particular production tries to add a little more comedy to the story to lighten up this dark tale, but it doesn't really work that well.

The story follows the title character, played by Charlie Hunnam of "Abandon" as he tries to regain an English gentlemen's proper place in society after his father dies, leaving the family penniless. The family turns to Nicholas' uncle for help. The uncle, Ralph Nickleby (Christopher Plummer of "A Beautiful Mind"), pretends to help the family by getting Nicholas a job at a boarding school. He puts Nicholas into a terrible job at Dotheboys Hall, a squalid school for orphans. The heartless uncle also sabotages the future of Nicholas' mother and sister. The school is run by the predatory Wackford Squeers (Jim Broadbent of "Iris") and his even meaner wife (played by Juliet Stevenson of "Bend it Like Beckham"). The Squeers are more interested in profit than education. Nicholas escapes from the school with his best friend, Smike, a poor, sickly fellow (played by Jamie Bell, who played the title character in the film, "Billy Elliot"). The two fall in with a wacky theatre troup headed by Vincent Crummles (Nathan Lane of "At First Sight"), a prince of a fellow who is as eccentric as the Mad Hatter. The person playing Crummles' wife is actually a guy, Barry Humphries, appearing as his famous alter-ego, Dame Edna Everage. This was a bit distracting, but not out of character for English stage tradition. Another notable performance is turned in by Romola Garai, who plays Kate Nickleby, Nicholas' sister.

In addition to young Nickelby's great adventure, there is also a love story between him and Madeline Bray (Anne Hathaway of "The Princess Diaries"). Then, of course, there is the rescue of his mother and sister from the evil clutches of his uncle, and the matter of finding justice for the crimes of the uncle as well. The film tries to put a happy face on what is a sad story in many ways and it doesn't really pan out. It gives you the broad outline of the story by concentrating on Nickelby's story, and only touching on the other stories. I liked the 1947 film version of the story starring Cedric Hardwicke better. It did a better job of dealing with the other story lines. The film does look terrific with great production design by Eve Stewart, who was instrumental in moving the time period of the film from the 1830s when the story was originally set (it was originally published in 1838), to the 1850s to better address issues related to the industrial revolution. The cinematography of Dick Pope also captures the lush colors of the English countryside very well and uses some interesting spot lighting in dark interior shots. The costumes by Ruth Meyers are also very interesting, based on the simpler styles of the mid-Victorian era. This latest version of the story rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2003 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)