The Life and
Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby may not immediately come to mind when naming
the most well-known of author Charles Dickens’ novels, but it’s arguably one of
his best. Besides being a cracking good story in print, the Royal Shakespeare
Company famously produced an 8-1/2-hour long Tony Award-winning play (staged in
two parts, with a dinner break) in 1980 that was one of this reviewer’s most
treasured theatrical experiences.
motion picture, released in 2002 to positive critical acclaim but little
enthusiasm from ticket-buyers, is also a delight. Writer/director Douglas
McGrath whittled down Dickens’ massive tome to a mere 132 minutes, and yet one
doesn’t miss the extracted bits. The screenplay is an essential lesson in adaptation. Now a gorgeously
rendered Blu-ray release from Twilight Time, Nickleby can be re-evaluated and appreciated for the superb
achievement it is.
story is typical Dickens—in mid-19th Century England, the death of Mr. Nickleby
leaves Nicholas (winningly played by a young Charlie Hunnam), his sister, and
mother without a penny—so they must go to London and depend on the charity of
Uncle Ralph (Christopher Plummer), who is a characteristically cruel and greedy
Dickens villain. Nicholas is at first sent to a boarding school run by Mr.
Squeers (Jim Broadbent), who is also cruel and greedy and likes to beat the
children. There, Nicholas meets the crippled Smike (Jamie Bell) and the pair
become fast friends. Nicholas succeeds in getting Smike out of the school, but
then they run into the eccentric Vincent Crummles (Nathan Lane) and his wife
(played hilariously by Barry Humphries—yes, a man), who put the young lads in
their traveling theatrical troupe. Misadventures and calamities continue to
befall Nicholas, not withstanding his romance with Madeline (Anne Hathaway),
which Uncle Ralph is determined to quash.
one can see, the cast is amazing. Add to these principles the likes of Alan
Cumming, Timothy Spall, Tom Courtenay, Edward Fox, and several other notable
British actors, and you’ve got an ensemble piece to be reckoned with.
(perhaps best known as Woody Allen’s co-writer and Oscar nominee for Bullets Over Broadway, writer/director
of Emma, and writer of the Broadway
smash Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)
brings intelligence and a colorful visual style to the material. Why the film
wasn’t nominated, at the very least, for Production Design or Costume Design is
1080p High Definition transfer looks wonderful, and the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
also comes with an isolated score track (by Rachel Portman) and a valuable and
informative “how-I-did-it” commentary by McGrath. Other supplements include two
making-of documentaries ported over from the original DVD release, as well as a
“view from the set” multi-angle feature. The original theatrical trailer rounds
out the package.
Nicholas Nickleby most likely slipped
by you back in late 2002 when it played in theaters—here’s your chance to check
it out before the limited edition run of 3,000 copies sells out.