Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Nicholas Nickleby (2002)

This was a movie that was on my list of movies to watch for a quite some time. And after answering the February Tag of the Period Drama Challenge, I felt like I need to watch more Dickens period dramas. Luckily, after they took it down, Netflix's Instant Streaming put Nicholas Nickleby back up again and I was able to watch this without having to buy the movie. So, here's another movie to add to my list of Dickens movies I have seen!
DVD Box Art

Nicholas Nickleby, at age nineteen, has become the head of his family after his father dies. In order to provide for his widowed mother and his sister, Kate, Nicholas pleas with his selfish uncle, Ralph Nickleby, to help them. However, Ralph Nickleby sends Nicholas away to work as a teacher at Dotheboys Hall (a dirty school where the students are mistreated) and though he sets Kate up with a job at a dressmaker, he uses her to get business men to go into business with him.

There's quite a long list of recognizable actors and actresses in this version of Nicholas Nickleby. If you have been watching period dramas for a while, I have no doubt that you'll recognize at least some people in this list. There are quite a few people from Emma (1996) in this movie.

Actor/ActressCharacterAlso Seen In
Stella GonetMrs. NicklebyHouse of Eliott as Beatrice "Bea" Eliott
Romola GaraiKate NicklebyEmma (2009) as Emma Woodhouse
Tom CourtenayNewman NoggsLittle Dorrit (2008) as William Dorrit
Christopher PlummerRalph NicklebyThe Sound of Music as Captain Von Trapp
Anne HathawayMadeline BrayBecoming Jane as Jane Austen
Jim BroadbentMr. SqueersThe Chronicles of Narnia as Professor Kirke
Jamie BellSmikeThe Adventures of Tintin (2011) as Tintin
Juliet StevensonMrs. SqueersEmma (1996) as Mrs. Elton
Lucy DavisMaid (though I don't remember her)Pride and Prejudice (1995) as Maria Lucas
Edward FoxSir Mulberry HawkDaniel Deronda as Sir Hugo Mallinger
Nathan LaneMr. CrummelsThe Lion King as Timon
Alan CummingMr. FolairEmma (1996) as Mr. Elton
Sophie ThompsonMiss LacreevyEmma (1996) as Mrs. Elton
Timothy SpallCharles CheerybleThe King's Speech as Winston Churchill

Wooh! That was a long list! Now, onto the characters.

Nicholas and Smike
The story mostly revolves around Nicholas Nickleby, a man of nineteen who suddenly becomes the head of his family when his father dies. Nicholas is a very likable character and I liked him almost instantly. He cares very much for his mother and sister and works hard to make sure they're provided for. He is also a very compassionate character, which shows when he takes Smike, a servant of the Squeer family at Dotheboys Hall, under his wing and cares for him like a brother. He is also an honorable character that is willing to defend the honor of his sister Spoiler and later the honor of the woman he loves End of Spoiler. You can't help but root for Nicholas throughout the entire movie.

Left to Right: Kate Nickleby, Miss Lacreevy, Mrs. Nickleby,
and Smike
Not much is seen of Mrs. Nickleby, but there are some scenes with Kate Nickleby. Kate is shown to be a very quiet girl who wants to work hard to take care of herself and her mother. She gets some unwanted attention from Sir Mulberry Hawk, a gentleman who her uncle wants to enter into business with, but she rebuffs him and is able to keep her dignity; Spoiler in fact, she breaks with her uncle because of his role in the whole incident and the fact that he will not rectify it End of Spoiler. The film also shows that Kate and Nicholas have a good relationship with each other; Nicholas is willing to defend Kate's honor and they talk to each other often. It's really sweet to see the brother/sister relationship. Though she isn't as central to the story as Nicholas, I felt that I was able to get a good sense of her character in this movie.

Mr. Folair performs his dance (finally!)
There is some comic relief in this film in the form of the acting company. After Nicholas and Smike leave Dotheboys Hall, he happens upon a Mr. Crummels, the head of an acting company, who offers him and Smike food and jobs in his acting company. Mr. Crummels, a friendly fellow, takes on both Nicholas and Smike who both become actors. While the acting company scenes weren't necessary to the plot (at least, not very much), it did brighten up the story a little bit and were amusing to watch. My favorite part of these scenes was when Mr. Folair attempts to show Nicholas his dance, but is always stopped by Mr. Crummels (he does finally get to dance at the end). The down side of these scenes was that Mrs. Crummels was portrayed by a male actor: personally, it came off as weird. I think they would have done better with a female actress as Mrs. Crummels.

The Dastardly Mr. Squeers
Now, I should probably mention the villains of Nicholas Nickleby. There are two main sets of villains in the story: the Squeers (the family that runs Dotheboys Hall) and those connected with Ralph Nickleby. Both sets of villains are despicable in their own ways. The Squeers are very violent and abusive to the boys that are placed under their charge. There are scenes where the boys are beaten for no reason by either Mr. Squeers or Mrs. Squeers (which can be difficult to watch). The Squeers even go as far to bring Smike back to them when he ran away and attempt to flog him (Spoilers Nicholas, however, stops Mr. Squeers from the flogging End of Spoilers). However, compared to Ralph Nickleby, the Squeers become more of an annoyance than anything else after Nicholas and Smike flee Dotheboys Hall and their importance diminishes in the second half of the movie.

Ralph Nickleby, no doubt looking at monetary reports.
Ralph Nickleby is the main villain throughout the whole story. It is because of him that Nicholas witnessed the abuse going on at Dotheboys Hall. It was because of him that Kate received unwanted attention from Sir Mulberry Hawk. Spoilers And it is because of him that Nicholas almost lost Madeline Bray, a woman he fell in love with but is nearly forced to marry Sir Mulberry Hawk to settle her father's debts. End of Spoilers Almost all of the problems that Nicholas faces in the story can be linked back to Ralph Nickleby. Ralph Nickleby proves himself to be a selfish, uncaring, and money-obsessed man who has no heart. Spoilers We do see him have remorse towards the end, but there is no redemption in him at that point he meets a very bad end. End of Spoilers

Madeline Bray
But now I just mentioned Madeline Bray (if you skipped the spoilers, then it'll appear as if I'm mentioning her randomly). Madeline Bray is a character that you see briefly in a couple of scenes in the beginning and middle of the movie. She doesn't come into the story until towards the end of the movie (I'd say about 70% of the way through). Madeline Bray seemed to be a very sweet character who works hard to provide for her debt-ridden father (kind of like Amy Dorrit in Little Dorrit). Nicholas takes a liking to her, which causes her some suffering caused by, you guessed it, Ralph Nickleby. I only wish I could have seen more of her, since it seemed like she should have been in the story longer than she was. I haven't read the book, but it seemed like the movie could have developed her character a little more.

I thought that the story would have been a little lighter than it turned out to be, but that's okay. Most of the story was of a serious nature, so the scenery and the colors reflect this serious nature of the story (quite a few dark/grayer scenes). The part with the acting company, however, does feature more colors and a happier setting. Most scenes take place in London; a good number of those scenes show the gritter side of 1800s London, so a lot of darker colors were present in those scenes. Dotheboys Hall was always dark, dusty, and dirty, which fit well with the place.

It was very hard to tell what era this took place in based on the costuming. The film is very obviously set in the Victorian era, but a lot of the costumes don't really point to a specific time in the Victorian Era. The skirts of the dresses didn't seem like they were poofy enough for any period in the Victorian Era. If I had to guess, I would guess that the story took place in the 1840s or early 1850s (though IMDB says it's the 1850s) due to some of the bodices that the women wore, but again, the shape of the skirt was off. But if it was in the 1840s/1850s, some of the bodices didn't seem right either for the era... So, I guess I'm not quite sure what time period the film makers were trying to go for here...

The music sounds very similar to the 1996 version of Emma. Why? Because both movies had soundtracks composed by Rachel Portman. The music I thought was a little too cheery for the storyline, but then again I like cheery music. There was a light feeling to the music even though the story was serious.

Overall: 3.5/5
I've only enjoyed a couple of Dickens stories, but this is another one of his stories that I enjoyed. The story is more serious, but there was a little bit of satire and jokes to keep the story from getting too dark (but don't get me wrong, there are still some scenes that are difficult to watch: you're not watching Emma here despite the fact that the two soundtracks are similar). I've read that this version isn't as accurate to the book as it could have been, but then I never read the book so I didn't notice it. I wouldn't mind watching this movie again, but I probably wouldn't go out of my way to watch it: I think it's more of a "Oh! It's on. I think I'll watch it" kind of movie.

The movie is rated PG for thematic material involving some violent action and a childbirth scene. The movie starts with Nicholas being born and you do see the cord being snapped after he is born. There is another birthing scene towards the end of the film in the form of a flashback, but it doesn't show as much as the first scene. There is violence involved with the scenes with the Squeers (but I elaborated about this above): from what I remember, there wasn't so much blood to cause concern (in fact, I can't remember any blood at all). There is also a scene where Sir Mulberry Hawk gets too fresh with Kate Nickleby, but she rebuffs him and her and her mother leave the scene. I would say the PG rating is appropriate and nothing gets too graphic or anything like that, but if you're still concerned about content, watch it first to judge for yourself: some parts are borderline for content.

Nicholas Nickleby is available on DVD and on Netflix Instant Streaming (for now). It is rated PG and runs for 132 minutes.

Old-Fashioned Charm
This review is apart of the Period Drama Challenge. Come join the fun!


  1. This is one of my very favourite movies! The soundtrack is also one of my favourites. I actually bought it last year and have very much enjoyed listening to it! You mentioned IMDB stated the story was set in the 1850s, but since the book was published in the early 1830s (or was it late 1820s?), I would've thought that would be when Charles Dickens set the story. Unfortunatley I have found IMDB to be terribly untrustworthy! Also, I hate to sound condescending, but it's actualy Mr. and Mrs. Crummels, not "Crumbles". Although that does sound like a Dickens name!
    I read this book last year and could see how the movie doesn't entirely follow the novel,( for instance, a lot of characters were cut out, like the Kenwigs, Mr. Gregsbury, and a lot of people in the Crummels' theatrical company), but for a two hour movie, I think they did a pretty good job of trimming the book.
    I enjoyed reading your review and I'm glad you enjoyed this movie!

    1. According to IMDB, it said that the costume designer wanted to set it in the 1850s so she could incorporate some elements of the Industrial Revolution in there. I will say that it would have made more sense to set it in the 1830s.

      Ah! Thank you for telling me it was Crummels and not Crumbles. This whole time, I thought it was Crumbles haha. I'll go fix it right away!

  2. Glad you liked this tolerably! ;) It isn't my favorite Dickens, but I do enjoy it. And I must say, I think it has a lighter feel than most of them. Heehee. :) And since you liked Little Dorrit and Bleak House, I really think you will like Our Mutual Friend. (I know, I know, it is already on your list. ;) ) And then you will have seen Timothy Spall in something else too! Oh and Jamie Bell, by the way, was in the newest Jane Eyre as St. John Rivers! Haha... I couldn't help thinking of Smike all the while. :P All the recognizable actors in this one was so fun...

    1. I heard in a documentary about Charles Dickens that his stories started to get darker after he wrote David Copperfield. From looking at Wikipedia, it looks like Little Dorrit, Bleak House, and Our Mutual Friend were published after David Copperfield (and LD and BH were darker stories; I'm assuming the same for OMF?) and Nicholas Nickleby was published before (which had a lighter story).

      I saw on IMDB that Jamie Bell was in Jane Eyre. I may watch that version one of these days (and, of course, I'll be thinking that St. John Rivers is Smike ;-) ).

  3. Always enjoy this movie because it does offer a bit of humor among the darkness - plus this was one of Anne's early roles and she did a decent job. :)

    1. That's one of the things I liked about this movie was that while it was a serious story, it had bits of humor. :-)

  4. I'm not a huge Dickens fan, but this does sound intriguing, and like it has a happier ending than some of his books. I really love Rachel Portman's music -- I have her soundtracks for Emma and Chocolat, and they both sound a bit alike, but I'm okay with that.

    Thanks for the thorough and enjoyable review!

    1. Hmm... I wonder if Rachel Portman just has a certain style of composing soundtracks. I thought the sound track to Nicholas Nickleby sounded like the soundtrack to Emma. But either way, she makes nice music.

  5. I will have to go to Netflix and see if this is still on there. I don't really like Charles Dicken's works, I'm not really sure why, but this story interests me. I will have to watch it sometime soon.

  6. I read the book a few years ago and enjoyed it. I do want to see the movie and compare. Thanks for posting a review!

    I do have a question: Do you know anything about the Series "Upstairs, Downstairs"? Saw it at the library and, having seen it mentioned on a few blogs (your's included), was curious about it.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the review.

      To answer your question, yes, I do know about Upstairs, Downstairs. I've seen both the original series from the 70s and the new series. I personally thought the older series was better, though you had to work your way through the first two series before it started getting good. The newer series didn't have the charm of the original series and the content was much more mature than the original series (though the original series also had some content issues as well). The older one is worth a watch, but I'm not so sure about the newer one. Let me know if you have anymore questions.


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