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Review: Nicholas Nickleby

Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent, and Tom Courtenay have a blast playing the film’s Dickensian horrors for laughs.

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Nicholas Nickleby
Photo: United Artists

If the idea of sitting through a two-hour-plus film adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby scares the living PBS out of you, fret not. Douglas McGrath’s latest may lack the lyricism of David Lean’s Oliver Twist and Great Expectations but Nicholas Nickleby may just be the funniest Dickens film ever mounted for the screen. McGrath co-wrote Bullets Over Broadway and appeared in four films by Woody Allen, whose influence is all over the catty dialogue heard here. It’s no surprise then that Nicholas Nickleby plays out like one deliriously long gay joke. When Nicholas’s father dies, he and his family implore Uncle Ralph Nickleby (Christopher Plummer) for help. The malicious old goat forces Kate Nickleby (Romola Garai) to repeatedly rub shoulders with horny old men and sends Nicholas to work as a professor in Wackford Squeers’s Dotheboys Hall (pronounced “Do the Boys” by the disgusting one-eyed Squeers, played by the amazing Jim Broadbent). Nicholas saves a half-naked Smike (Jamie Bell) from the wrath of Squeers and his wife (Juliet Stevenson), leaves Dotheboys Hall with Bell’s mini Quasimodo and joins an acting troupe manned by Nathan Lane’s Vincent Crummles and his gay husband (Barry Humphries). McGrath fabulously fashions an unlikely daisy wheel sketch comedy out of Dickens’s otherwise morose source material. McGrath directs with charming symmetry and evokes a delightful Tweedle Dee/Tweedle Dum relationship between the Cheeryble lawyer brothers played by Timothy Spall and Gerard Horan. Plummer, Broadbent and Tom Courtenay have a blast playing the film’s Dickensian horrors for laughs. To make Dickens sound funny is no small feat but in so doing McGrath makes the material’s “family values” that much easier to swallow.

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Nathan Lane, Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent, Anne Hathaway, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Timothy Spall Director: Douglas McGrath Screenwriter: Douglas McGrath Distributor: United Artists Running Time: 132 min Rating: PG Year: 2002 Buy: Video, Soundtrack, Book

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