Review: “Nicholas Nickleby”

The latest Charles Dickens novel to head to the big screen has all the lavish production values that one expects of a quality production, but sadly much like the recent version of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” the end product lacks both energy and excitement.

Director Douglas McGrath has an obvious love of the material and the confidence required to compress the 1,000 page novel into a just over two hour movie – but in chopping away a lot of the minor elements which help establish the story’s richness, various subplots never really click whilst the rather silly plot twists and contrivances become even more apparent. That’s not to say the ride isn’t enjoyable though, there’s colourful characters & hiss-worthy villains populating the landscape and played by the cream of British cinema.

Sadly considering all the talent involved, none really get to show off their true worth. Charlie Hunnam and Jamie Bell who delivered great work in the British version of “Queer as Folk” and the film “Billy Elliott” respectively make likeable leads even if both struggle with the difficult dialogue.

The friendship of the two is somewhat dated and antiquated as the pair are visibly far more in love with each other than their respective fiancees and if considered on that level the relationship is rather sweet and touching (as a friendship though it stretches credibility).

Plummer seems to be having a ball as the deliciously evil uncle whilst Nathan Lane has a short fun stint as the leader of a theatrical troop, but much of the other great talent like Humphries, Fox, Hathaway, Broadbent, Stevenson & Cumming are all wasted in underdeveloped and uninteresting roles (though the baddies come out the better for it).

Like the last half hour of ‘Earnest’, there’s some silly plot twists and convenient appearances which may have been acceptable at the time of writing but will generate inappropriate laughs from more contemporary audiences. Sadly even the likes of Plummer aren’t able to pull off the material convincingly – worsening the effect. Dickens classic tale remains a remarkably solid piece of storytelling whose episodic nature is much more suited to the likes of television than the limited feature film realm.

The director obviously cares a great deal for the material and frustratingly has both truncated key moments of the story whilst sticking too rigidly to the wording in others. The results if a Cliff Notes version of the tale – the main highlights are here but the deeper meanings of the smaller moments are lost, an as even Dickens himself would know – its the small moments which count.