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:: Nicholas Nickleby

Life’s never easy for the characters of a Charles Dickens novel and Nicholas Nickleby is no exception. His father dies and leaves his family in debt and his rich old uncle banishes him to a boarding school for boys, which could not be further from the boarding school world of Harry Potter. He must make his way on his own and battle villains who seek to destroy him with nothing but his goodness and honour. At least he’s good looking, Dickens didn’t make life all bad.

Nickleby is played by Charlie Hunnam, best known for his role as Nathan in the UK version of Queer as Folk. This role couldn’t be more different and Hunnam does a solid job but can’t help but be overshadowed by characters with more, well, character. Christopher Plummer is truly evil as the villainous uncle, Jamie Bell is fragile and pathetic as Smike and Nathan Lane provides some much-needed levity as the travelling showman, Vincent Crummles who shows Nickleby some kindness. There are also amusing turns from Barry Humphries in his Dame Edna incarnation as Mrs Crummles and Alan Cummings as an actor with a yearning to insert the Highland Fling into just about anything.

The episode in the theatre, as well as the kindly lawyer brothers Charles and Ned Cheeryble (Timothy Spall and Gerard Horan) were played delightfully tongue in cheek, which made the earnest and improbably clean toothed Nickleby seem even duller. It was great to see the wonderful Juliet Stevenson (Truly, Madly, Deeply) play a sharp tongued, miserable tormentor of children Mrs Squeers. I was disappointed to see her so little.

But then that’s the problem, a plethora of characters, all of them branching off into their own stories, is what made it difficult to follow Nickleby’s story. You want to see what the others are up to, and at over two hours, the film cannot allow you to.

The costume set design and cinematography all work well together to create a believable Dickensian world. The grime and squalor are sufficiently grimy and squalor like and the contrasting opulence still move you to consider the injustice and inequality in society.

Douglas McGrath, who adapted the story for the screen and directed it, previously made Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and that was a more successful adaptation. This one hits it stride, only to lose it again in sentiment and some truly horrendous moments of exposition. When two enemies meet in the rain, one asks the other, do you remember how I came to be this way? Which prompts a five-minute monologue encapsulating the entire history of that character. But there are enough genuinely entertaining moments to make it worthwhile.