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'Nicholas Nickleby'

Friday, January 10, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

What, you were expecting a nine-hour movie of Charles Dickens' "Nicholas Nickleby," matching the gargantuan Royal Shakespeare Company stage version of two decades ago?

'Nicholas Nickleby'

RATING: PG for thematic material involving some violent action and a childbirth scene.

STARRING: Charlie Hunnam, Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent, Nathan Lane.

DIRECTOR: Douglas McGrath.

WEB SITE: www.nicholasnickleby.com


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Granted, the current 132-minute movie version adapted and directed by Douglas McGrath ("Emma"), qualifies as Dickens Lite. But if they can cut "Hamlet" (and almost everyone save Kenneth Branagh does), they can slice "Nickleby."

McGrath's version captures the essence of the tale in entertaining fashion with a sturdy cast including such notables as Christopher Plummer, Nathan Lane, Jim Broadbent, Jamie Bell, Alan Cumming and Edward Fox.

Charlie Hunnam is blandly handsome as Nicholas, the innocent torn from paradise upon his father's death and thrown to the wolves of 19th-century London. Chief among them is his supposed benefactor, Uncle Ralph Nickleby (a quietly compelling Plummer), who has a stock ticker in the cavity where his heart should be.

In typical Dickensian fashion, Nicholas experiences a series of adventures. He takes on brutal schoolmaster Wackford Squeers (Broadbent), basks in the benevolently ham of theatrical trouper Vincent Crummles (Lane), enjoys the patronage of the supremely humane Cheeryble twins (Timothy Spall and Gerald Horan), meets the woman of his dreams (Anne Hathaway).

Being Dickens, there are also intricate secrets and extraordinary coincidences. Hunnam's ponderous line readings serve to make him seem even more of a naif. This fits McGrath's emphasis on the theme of good overcoming evil (he also comments upon families being made more of warm regard than of cold blood).

In that sense, "Nicholas Nickleby" all but begs us to cling it to our collective bosom. That may be a bit much, but there's certainly no problem in spending a couple of hours in its company.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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