Nicholas Nickleby
3 out of 5 stars
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Emma director McGrath turns to another British classic with this adaptation of the oft-filmed Dickens novel (three previous films plus three TV versions). This one's an affable romp with a fantastic all-star cast. Nicholas (Hunnam) has recently lost his father so he turns to his Uncle Ralph (Plummer) for help. But Ralph is a nasty piece of work, sending Nicholas to work for the vile Mr & Mrs Squeers (Broadbent and Stevenson) while he lets his business partner (Fox) make a rude play for Nicholas' sister (Garai). Soon Nicholas escapes the Squeers, stealing their slave-boy Smike (Bell) and briefly joining a travelling theatre troupe (cue Lane, Humphries and Cumming!) before returning to London to set things straight.

There's a lot more, of course, as the story twists and turns through various subplots, all bursting with quirky and colourful characters brilliantly played by the veteran cast (Courtenay walks off with the whole film as Ralph's sardonic assistant). The younger cast struggles a bit more, as is usual with these films, simply because they don't have the depth of experience to invest their characters with ... well, character. Hunnam is certainly nice to look at, and he has a few strong scenes;while Bell, Garai and Hathaway (as the object of Nicholas' affections) are fine in badly underwritten roles. Meanwhile, Rachel Portman's gorgeous score augments the finely detailed production design, although it's photographed in a rather too-sunny TV-movie style. Besides the cast of scene-stealers, the film works as well as it does because of McGrath's use of a Tom Jones tone--bawdy humour and witty running gags combined with flashes of cruelty and tragedy. This is an enjoyable tale with a classic sense of fate and justice, enough comedy to keep us smiling, and not too much depth or resonance to worry us at all.

cert PG themes, some violence 5.Jun.03

dir-scr Douglas McGrath
with Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Christopher Plummer, Tom Courtenay, Anne Hathaway, Romola Garai, Jim Broadbent, Juliet Stevenson, Kevin McKidd, Edward Fox, Timothy Spall, Gerard Horan, Nathan Lane, Barry Humphries, Alan Cumming, Nicholas Rowe
release US 27.Dec.02; UK 27.Jun.03
United Artists
02/UK 2h13

Buddies against the odds. Hunnam and Bell

plummer hathaway spall
broadbent stevenson cumming
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall