Nicholas Nickleby (2002 film)

Last updated

Nicholas Nickleby
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Douglas McGrath
Produced by
Screenplay byDouglas McGrath
Based on The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
by Charles Dickens
Narrated byNathan Lane
Music by Rachel Portman
Cinematography Dick Pope
Edited by Lesley Walker
Distributed by 20th Century Fox (United Kingdom)
MGM Distribution Co. (United States)
Release date
  • 27 December 2002 (2002-12-27)(US)
  • 27 June 2003 (2003-06-27)(UK)
Running time
132 minutes [1]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Budget$10 million
Box office$3.7 million [2]

Nicholas Nickleby is a 2002 British-American period comedy-drama film written and directed by Douglas McGrath. The screenplay is based on The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, which originally was published in serial form between March 1838 and September 1839. Charlie Hunnam stars in the titular role alongside Nathan Lane, Jim Broadbent, Christopher Plummer, Jamie Bell, Anne Hathaway, Alan Cumming, and Timothy Spall.



A prologue introduces the Nicklebys, country gentry who enjoy a comfortable life in the Devon countryside until the father dies and leaves his family with no source of income. Nineteen-year-old Nicholas, his mother, and his younger sister, Kate, venture to London to seek help from their wealthy, cold-hearted uncle Ralph, an investor who arranges for Nicholas to be hired as a tutor at Dotheboys Hall in Yorkshire and finds Kate work as a seamstress.

Nicholas is horrified to discover his employers, the sadistic Mr and Mrs Squeers, run their boarding school like a prison and physically, verbally, and emotionally abuse their young charges on a regular basis. He eventually rebels and escapes, taking with him the crippled young servant boy Smike. As they journey to London, they stumble upon a theatrical troupe owned and operated by Mr and Mrs Crummles. They cast them in a production of Romeo and Juliet , but despite a successful first night and the couple's invitation to stay, Nicholas is determined to continue their journey to London after hearing that Kate is in trouble.

Nicholas discovers his sister has been subjected to humiliating sexual harassment from the lecherous Sir Mulberry Hawk, a client of their uncle, who has encouraged the man to seduce his niece in the hope that she will succumb and thus cement Hawk's business relationship with him. Nicholas confronts Sir Mulberry and his uncle, renouncing the latter.

Nicholas is reunited with his family, who welcome Smike as one of their own, and finds clerical employment with the kindly Cheeryble brothers, who offer him more than double his previous salary. While thus employed, Nicholas makes the acquaintance of Madeline Bray, an artist who financially supports both herself and her tyrannical father, as her father gambled away his fortune and that of his late wife.

Nicholas' determination to defend his sister's honour leads his uncle to vow he will destroy the young man. What ensues is a series of adventures in which the upstanding Nicholas manages to survive the schemes of his evil uncle, including an attempt to return Smike to Squeers by kidnapping him and an effort to abort Nicholas' growing relationship with Madeline by promising her father he will excuse his debts if the girl weds Hawk. Ralph's designs on Madeline are thwarted when her father dies unexpectedly. Unfortunately, Smike falls ill and soon dies. Soon after, a sinister secret Ralph has harbored for years surfaces, and it is revealed Smike was Ralph's son, whom he had thought dead. Realizing that his son had died the best friend of his most hated enemy, Ralph hangs himself. Kate marries the Cheeryble brothers' nephew Frank, while Nicholas marries Madeline and settles with her in Devon at his father's house and grounds, where Smike is buried.



In Creating a Classic: The Making of Nicholas Nickleby, a bonus feature on the film's DVD release, screenwriter/director Douglas McGrath and his cast and crew discuss the development of the project. The positive audience reaction to a stage reading of the screenplay in a theater in lower Manhattan, which included a number of actors who eventually were cast in the film, convinced McGrath to proceed with the movie. At the request of production designer Eve Stewart, he advanced the time frame from the 1830s to the 1850s so she could incorporate elements of the Industrial Revolution into her design plans.

Jamie Bell's audition for the role of Smike in a London hotel room left McGrath and the producers in tears, and they cast him on the spot. While considering Mrs. Crummles, a smug, opinionated, but lovable dowager, McGrath realized all her traits and characteristics were embodied by Dame Edna Everage, alter ego of actor Barry Humphries, but was hesitant to suggest casting a male in the role. The producers, however, agreed Humphries was an ideal choice. Nicholas was one of the last roles to be cast. Charlie Hunnam had been sent the script, but several months passed before he had an opportunity to read it. He met with McGrath, and based on a couple of hours of conversation with the actor, the director felt he finally had found the right man for the part. Ironically, the British Hunnam had to work with a dialect coach; having lived and worked in the US for the past several years, he had perfected an American accent in order to ensure regular employment.

Costume designer Ruth Myers opted to dress two of the leading characters in clothing pre-dating the period in which the film is set in order to suggest Nicholas, as the newly anointed head of his family, wore clothing inherited from his father, and the impoverished Madeline's dresses were hand-me-downs from her mother.

Locations used in the film included the abandoned 19th century Gibson Mill in Hardcastle Crags; Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire; Churchill College at the University of Cambridge; and Wilton's Music Hall, the Old Vic, and the Reform Club in London. Interiors were filmed in Elstree Studios in Borehamwood and Three Mills Studios in the East End of London.


Critical response

The film received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 77% out of 122 professional critics gave the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.8/10 and the critical consensus being: "Thanks to a strong cast of experienced actors and director Douglas McGrath's steady hand, Nicholas Nickleby is a worthy and respectful adaptation of the Dickens novel." [3]

In his review in The New York Times , A. O. Scott called the film "two hours of swift, engaging entertainment" and added, "The book's theme and spirit have been dutifully respected. No, what Mr. McGrath has done with admirable modesty is better than that. Rather than trying to update, transform or otherwise interpret Nickleby, he has decided to share his enthusiasm for it ... [He] has adapted [Dickens' dialogue] with a scholar's ear and a showman's flair ... [and] produced a colorful, affecting collage of Dickensian moods and motifs, a movie that elicits an overwhelming desire to plunge into 900 pages of 19th-century prose." [4]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said, "The movie is jolly and exciting and brimming with life, and wonderfully well-acted." [5]

In the San Francisco Chronicle , Mick LaSalle observed, "It took Dickens 65 chapters, and it took the famous stage production eight hours to tell the story of Nicholas Nickleby. But in the new movie, writer-director Douglas McGrath manages to tell it all in 132 minutes, without the story ever seeming rushed or curtailed. Instead, the impression is one of abundance: It's a generous tale, told through big performances by a talented cast." [6]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded the film three out of a possible four stars and commented, "Christopher Plummer steals the show without resorting to camp as Nicholas' wounded and wounding Uncle Ralph. It's a great performance and a reminder of Dickens' grandeur. This CliffsNotes of a film, though lively fun, only hints at that. No matter. I'll take the hint." [7]

In Variety , David Rooney described the film as "a delightful experience. The sacrifices of condensing Dickens' massive novel to standard feature length are discernible, especially in the title character's discovery of love. But while it's told in conventional fashion, the heart of this tale of a young man's quest to rescue his family from villainy and misfortune is lovingly rendered by a mostly superlative cast and with an entertaining balance of humor and pathos . . . McGrath's approach is old-fashioned but appealing, using a novelistic style that relies on voiceover to get through much of the initial exposition. His script captures the scope, humor and compassion of Dickens' novel and drives the picaresque story along at a lively clip." [8]

Box office

The film grossed $1,587,173 in the U.S. and $2,064,289 in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $3,651,462. [2]

Awards and nominations

The film was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. It received the National Board of Review Award for Best Cast, and Romola Garai was nominated for the Jameson People's Choice Award for Best European Actress at the European Film Awards.

Related Research Articles

<i>Nicholas Nickleby</i> monthly serial; novel by Charles Dickens; published 1838–1839

Nicholas Nickleby or The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is a novel by Charles Dickens originally published as a serial from 1838 to 1839. It was Dickens's third novel. The story centres on the life and adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, a young man who must support his mother and sister after his father dies.

Sybil Thorndike British actress

Dame Agnes Sybil Thorndike was an English actress who toured internationally in Shakespearean productions, often appearing with her husband Lewis Casson. Bernard Shaw wrote Saint Joan specially for her, and she starred in it with great success. She was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1931, and Companion of Honour in 1970.

Jamie Bell English actor

Andrew James Matfin Bell is an English actor and dancer. He rose to prominence for his debut role in Billy Elliot (2000), for which he won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He is also known for his roles in the films King Kong (2005), Jumper (2008), The Adventures of Tintin (2011), Snowpiercer (2013), Fantastic Four (2015) and Rocketman (2019), as well as starring as Abraham Woodhull in the television series Turn: Washington's Spies (2014).

Charlie Hunnam British actor and screenwriter

Charles Matthew Hunnam is an English actor. He is known for his roles as Nathan Maloney in the Channel 4 drama Queer as Folk (1999–2000), Lloyd Haythe in the Fox comedy series Undeclared (2001–2002), the title role in Nicholas Nickleby (2002), Pete Dunham in Green Street (2005), Jackson "Jax" Teller in the FX drama series Sons of Anarchy (2008–2014) for which he was twice nominated for the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series, Raleigh Becket in Pacific Rim (2013), Percy Fawcett in The Lost City of Z (2016), and the title role in Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017).

Rose Hill (actress) English actress and operatic soprano

Rose Lilian Hill was an English actress and operatic soprano, who remains best known for her role as Madame Fanny La Fan in the British television series 'Allo 'Allo!. She was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Alun Armstrong English actor

Alan Armstrong, known professionally as Alun Armstrong, is an English actor. Armstrong grew up in County Durham in North East England. He first became interested in acting through Shakespeare productions at his grammar school. Since his career began in the early 1970s, he has played, in his words, "the full spectrum of characters from the grotesque to musicals... I always play very colourful characters, often a bit crazy, despotic, psychotic".

<i>Smike</i> musical

Smike is a pop musical adaptation of a small part of Charles Dickens' 1839 novel Nicholas Nickleby, that was televised for the BBC in 1973. The musical is based on the character Smike from that novel. The TV production starred Beryl Reid as Mrs Squeers, Andrew Keir as Mr Squeers, Leonard Whiting as Nicholas, and Ian Sharrock as Smike. The original cast also featured DJ Neil Fox, a pupil at Kingston Grammar, as one of the schoolboys. A cast album was released on Pye records, including the songs from that production, but not all of the songs used in the stage version. The complete score was re-recorded in 1983 and released on a double album featuring Jill Gascoine, Oliver Tobias and Mike Holoway.

Aubrey Woods English actor

Aubrey Harold Woods was an English actor and singer.

<i>The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby</i> (2001 film) 2001 television film directed by Stephen Whittaker

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is a British TV film which aired in 2001, directed by Stephen Whittaker, based on the 1839 novel Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens.

The National Board of Review Award for Best Acting by an Ensemble is an annual film award given by the National Board of Review.

<i>The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby</i> (play) play written by Charles Dickens

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is an 8½ hour-long adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1839 novel, performed in two parts. Part 1 was 4 hours in length with one interval of 15 minutes. Part 2 was 4½ hours in length with two intervals of 12 minutes. It was originally presented onstage over two evenings, or in its entirety from early afternoon with a dinner break. Later it was presented on television over four evenings.

Suzanne Bertish is an English actress.

<i>The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby</i> (1947 film) 1947 film by Alberto Cavalcanti

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is a 1947 British drama film directed by Alberto Cavalcanti and starring Cedric Hardwicke. The screenplay by John Dighton is based on the Charles Dickens novel The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1839). This first sound screen adaptation of the book followed silent films released in 1903 and 1912.

Elizabeth Dickens née Elizabeth Barrow; mother of Victorian-era novelist Charles Dickens

Elizabeth Culliford Dickens was the wife of John Dickens and the mother of English novelist Charles Dickens. She was the source for Mrs. Nickleby in her son's novel Nicholas Nickleby and for Mrs Micawber in David Copperfield.

Emily Richard is a British actress and a former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

New Theatre Royal theatre in Portsmouth, England

The New Theatre Royal is a Victorian Grade II* listed theatre in the heart of Portsmouth, England, with a capacity of 667. The theatre building was constructed in 1854 as Landport Hall. It was converted to a theatre two years later. It was rebuilt in 1884 by Charles J. Phipps and again in 1900 by Frank Matcham.

<i>The Invisible Woman</i> (2013 film) 2013 film by Ralph Fiennes

The Invisible Woman is a 2013 British biographical drama film directed by Ralph Fiennes and starring Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas and Tom Hollander. Written by Abi Morgan, and based on the book of the same name by Claire Tomalin, the film is about the secret love affair between Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan, which lasted for thirteen years until his death in 1870. The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on 31 August 2013, and was released in the United Kingdom on 7 February 2014. The film received a Best Costume Design nomination at the 86th Academy Awards.

Nicholas Nickleby is a 1912 American silent short drama film directed by George Nichols, adapted from Charles Dickens' 1839 novel of the same name. The two-reel film stars Harry Benham in the title role and Mignon Anderson.

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is a nine-hour adaptation of the novel by Charles Dickens. It was filmed as a stage play at The Old Vic in London by The Royal Shakespeare Company.


  1. "NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (PG)". British Board of Film Classification . 27 March 2003. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  2. 1 2 "Nicholas Nickleby". Box Office Mojo . Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  3. Nicholas Nickeleby (2002). Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
  4. Scott, A. O. (7 December 2002). "FILM Review; The Pure at Heart at a Hardhearted Boarding School". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 December 2019.
  5. Ebert, Roger (3 January 2003). "Nicholas Nickleby". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 29 December 2019.
  6. LaSalle, Mick (3 January 2003). "The Dickens, you say/ 'Nickleby' film is faithful to classic novel's emotional scope". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 29 December 2019.
  7. Travers, Peter (9 January 2003). "Nicholas Nickleby". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 29 December 2019.
  8. Rooney, David (17 December 2002). "Nicholas Nickleby". Variety. Retrieved 29 December 2019.