Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Nicholas Nickleby


Hopeless sentimentality, unbelievable coincidences, inhuman villains, saintly women and protagonists … these are all things that couldn’t be sold in a book today, and they’re the things I cherish about Charles Dickens. It was a different world. Monsters like Mr. and Mrs. Wackford Squeers (Jim Broadbent and Juliet Stevenson) (and nobody could find more amusing names than Dickens) really existed, running their schools and poorhouses and other public and private institutions. Heartless rich men like Ralph Nickleby (Christopher Plummer) existed, and still exist. Offhand, I can’t think of anyone who can write a more convincing horror story except maybe Stephen King, and Dickens didn’t have to resort to the supernatural. (The various spirits of Christmas were dreams: undigested bits of beef, blots of mustard, crumbs of cheese, fragments of underdone potato.) This story is a good one, thoroughly unbelievable, and well-mounted by director Douglas McGrath. There is a charming supporting role with Nathan Lane, and nice work by Tom Courtenay as Newman Noggs, Jamie Bell as Smike, Edward Fox as the dastardly Sir Mulberry Hawk, Timothy Spall as Ned Cheeryble (again, don’t you just love these names?), Alan Cumming, well-known as the Master of Ceremonies in the re-imaging of Cabaret in 1993, and Anne Hathaway in only her fourth movie role, before she was a big star.