The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1947 film)

Last updated

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
Nicholas Nickelby 1947 UK poster.jpg
Original UK 1947 quad format poster
Directed by Cavalcanti
Screenplay by John Dighton
Based on The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
by Charles Dickens
Produced by Michael Balcon
Starring Cedric Hardwicke, Stanley Holloway, Alfred Drayton, Cyril Fletcher, Bernard Miles, Derek Bond
Cinematography Gordon Dines
Edited by Leslie Norman
Music by 14th Baron Berners
Distributed by General Film Distributors
Release date
  • 12 March 1947 (1947-03-12)(UK)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£146,069 [1]
Box office£139,314 (UK) [1]

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (also known simply as Nicholas Nickleby) is a 1947 British drama film directed by Alberto Cavalcanti and starring Cedric Hardwicke, with Derek Bond in the title role. 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.



After the father of a family dies, leaving the wife and children with no source of income, Nicholas Nickleby, with his mother and his younger sister Kate, travel to London to seek help from their wealthy but cold-hearted uncle Ralph, a money-lender. Ralph arranges for Nicholas to be hired as a tutor, and finds Kate work as a seamstress. Nicholas meets his new employer Mr. Squeers just as he concludes his daily business with Mr. Snawley, who is "boarding" his two unwanted stepsons.

Nicholas is horrified to discover that his employers, the sadistic Mr. and Mrs. Squeers, run their boarding school, Dotheboys Hall in Yorkshire, like a prison. They physically, verbally, and emotionally abuse their young charges on a regular basis. Nicholas eventually rebels and escapes, taking with him young friend – the crippled Smike.

Nicholas and Smike take lodgings with Newman Noggs, Ralph Nickleby's clerk. Nicholas tries to find a job, but rejects a low-paying position as a politician's secretary. A job as a tutor of French for the Kenwig daughters comes to comic disaster. He and Smike decide to search for work elsewhere. As they are leaving the city, they make the acquaintance of Madeline Bray, the sole support of her father, who gambled away his fortune and now is indebted to Nicholas's uncle.

In search of food and lodging, they stop at an inn, and the proprietor introduces them to actor-manager Vincent Crummles, who owns and operates a travelling theatrical troupe with his actress wife. Crummles hires the two as actors and casts them in a production of Romeo and Juliet , in which they are successful.

Nicholas decides to return to London after he receives a letter from Noggs, who urges him to come back as quickly as possible as his uncle has put his sister in great jeopardy despite his promise to make certain they come to no harm. Kate has been subjected to unwanted attention from Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Verisopht, clients of her uncle, and when Nicholas overhears them bawdily discussing her in a tavern he is determined to defend his sister's honour. Hawk refuses Nicholas's demand to "step outside", and they fight in Hawk's carriage, resulting in an accident in which Hawk is injured. Hawk and Lord Verisopht argue over Hawk's lack of honour, and Hawk kills Lord Verisopht in a duel with pistols. As a result, Ralph Nickleby loses £6,000, owed to him by Verisopht, much to the delight of Noggs, who harbours a hidden desire for revenge against his employer.

Nicholas then finds employment as a clerk with the portly, benevolent, twin brothers Cheeryble, whose nephew Frank begins to court Kate. They provide him a cottage in which Nicholas can place his family and Smike, who has been accepted warmly by all. Meanwhile, Squeers returns to London, planning to capture Smike and bring him back to Dotheboys Hall, and is engaged by Ralph Nickleby to stalk Nicholas and Smike. Squeers and Mr. Snawley make off with Smike "on the wishes of his father". Nicholas, aided by Noggs, intercepts them and foils the plot. Smike, severely beaten by Squeers, is nursed by Kate and falls in love with her.

Nicholas meets Madeline a third time when the Cheerybles assign Nicholas to help her situation, in secrecy from her father. His uncle has been trying to coerce her father into giving Ralph her hand in marriage in exchange for settlement of his debt, and Mr. Bray finally accedes. Noggs warns Nicholas, who arrives at the Bray lodgings to find Madeline, unhappily dressed in a wedding gown, awaiting her fate. In a showdown with Ralph, Kate reveals to Madeline the true nature of Ralph Nickleby's character. Madeline's father is found dead in his bedroom, Madeline faints and Nicholas carries her away, warning Ralph to leave her alone as she is now free of all obligations.

Ralph's hatred of Nicholas makes him determined to ruin him, but he is brought up short by Noggs, who has realised from the facts told him by Nicholas that Smike is actually Ralph's son, whom Ralph had secretly put in the charge of a poor family, who kept the money he paid them but sent the boy to Dotheboys. Ralph's hold over Noggs has compelled him to harbour the secret for fifteen years. Smike was sent away after his mother's death, using a forged birth certificate, so that Ralph could keep her inheritance rather than let their child have it, as dictated by law. Further, Squeers hired Snawley to act the part of Smike's father to make his kidnapping appear legal. Noggs delights in telling Ralph that Squeers has confessed the conspiracy to the authorities, and Ralph now faces prison and financial ruin.

Smike, fallen into hopelessness because Kate is in love with Frank, succumbs to his various ailments and dies just before Ralph arrives at Smike's deathbed. The police come to Ralph's house to arrest him. Ralph flees to his garret and hangs himself. True love prevails, and Nicholas and Madeline and Kate and Frank are wed.



Box office

According to trade papers, the film was a "notable box office attraction" at British cinemas in 1947. [2] The film earned distributor's gross receipts of £139,313 in the UK of which £106,427 went to the producer. [1]

Critical response

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that "comparison to Great Expectations puts it somewhat in the shade, mainly because the former was so much more exciting as to plot and a good bit more satisfying in the nature and performance of its characters." Crowther considered it "a good whole cut below that of Great Expectations and its tension is nowhere near as well sustained", adding that there was a "failure to get real pace or tension in the film's last half." He highlighted the "compression of details and incidents compelled by John Dighton's script", believing this "overabundance also hampers the rounding of characters". [3]

In a retrospective review, Time Out London argued that "Cavalcanti makes surprisingly little of the surreal possibilities of this convoluted Dickensian nightmare." The review acknowledged "an impressively atmospheric Victorian London, but stylish visuals hardly compensate for the flat, cursory rendering of some of Dickens' best drawn characters." However, the review praised the performances of Cedric Hardwicke and Bernard Miles, who were "given enough space to establish a proper presence." Time Out concluded, "Meagre and one-dimensional, the film is finally smothered by Ealing's cosy sentimentality". [4]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward Hardwicke</span> English actor (1932–2011)

Edward Cedric Hardwicke was an English actor, who had a distinguished career on the stage and on-screen. He was best known for playing Captain Pat Grant in Colditz (1972–73), and Dr. Watson in Granada Television's Sherlock Holmes (1986–94).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cedric Hardwicke</span> English actor (1893–1964)

Sir Cedric Webster Hardwicke was an English stage and film actor whose career spanned nearly 50 years. His theatre work included notable performances in productions of the plays of Shakespeare and Shaw, and his film work included leading roles in several adapted literary classics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fay Compton</span> English actress (1894-1978)

Virginia Lilian Emmeline Compton-Mackenzie,, known professionally as Fay Compton, was an English actress. She appeared in several films, and made many broadcasts, but was best known for her stage performances. She was known for her versatility, and appeared in Shakespeare, drawing room comedy, pantomime, modern drama, and classics such as Ibsen and Chekhov. In addition to performing in Britain, Compton appeared several times in the US, and toured Australia and New Zealand in a variety of stage plays.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Hayter (actor)</span> British actor (1907–1983)

Henry James Hayter was a British actor of television and film. He is best remembered for his roles as Friar Tuck in the film The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952) and as Samuel Pickwick in the film The Pickwick Papers (1952), the latter earning him a BAFTA Award for Best British Actor nomination.

<i>Nicholas Nickleby</i> 1838–1839 novel by Charles Dickens

Nicholas Nickleby, or The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, is the third novel by Charles Dickens, originally published as a serial from 1838 to 1839. The character of Nickleby is a young man who must support his mother and sister after his father dies.

<i>Smike</i> Musical by Roger Holman and Simon May

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.

<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.

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

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>Nicholas Nickleby</i> (2002 film) 2002 film

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 title role alongside Nathan Lane, Jim Broadbent, Christopher Plummer, Jamie Bell, Anne Hathaway, Romola Garai, Alan Cumming, and Timothy Spall.

Robert William Bowes was a British actor and teacher whose only film role was as headmaster Mr Gryce in the 1969 adaptation of Barry Hines' book "A Kestrel for a Knave".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Merrall</span> English actress

Mary Merrall, born Elsie Lloyd, was an English actress whose career of over 60 years encompassed stage, film and television work.

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

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.

<i>The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby</i> (1982 film) 1982 British film

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is a nine-hour adaptation of the novel by Charles Dickens. It is a recording of the stage play by The Royal Shakespeare Company at The Old Vic in London. It was Channel 4's first major drama commission.

Nicholas Nickleby is a British television series which first aired on the BBC in 1957. It is based on the novel Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens.

<i>Nicholas Nickleby</i> (1977 TV series) British TV series or programme

Nicholas Nickleby is a British television series which first aired on the BBC in 1977. It is based on the novel Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens.

<i>Nicholas Nickleby</i> (1968 TV series) British TV series or programme

Nicholas Nickleby is a British television series which first aired on BBC 1 in 1968. It is based on the novel Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, following a compassionate young man who, after the death of his father, tries to save his friends and family from his wicked uncle, and earn a living strong enough to support them.

<i>The Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby</i> Italian TV series or program

The Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is an Italian television series which first aired on RAI 1 in 1958. It is based on the novel Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens.


  1. 1 2 3 Chapman, J. (2022). The Money Behind the Screen: A History of British Film Finance, 1945-1985. Edinburgh University Press p 355. Gross is distributor's gross receipts.
  2. Robert Murphy (2003). Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939–48. Routledge. p. 209. ISBN   978-1-134-90150-0.
  3. New York Times review
  4. Time Out London review