Following his father's death, Nicholas Nickleby tries to provide for his family by working at a school for orphans, where he befriends young mistreated boy Smike. The pair run away and set off on an adventure to reunite Nickleby's family and find a new home...
One of Charles Dickens' best-loved novels gets the big screen treatment here with an all-star cast that includes Tom Courtenay, Alan Cumming, Edward Fox, Juliet Stevenson, Timothy Spall and, erm, Barry Humphries.
Director-screenwriter McGrath - who brought Emma to the screen with Gwyneth Paltrow - certainly didn't choose the easiest book to film: Nicholas Nickleby, the novel, is so densely packed with characters and stories that, when performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company a few decades ago, became a nine-and-a-half-hour production.
That length of running time is a little too long even for the most devoted Dickens moviegoer, so what McGrath has delivered is akin to a film adaptation of a GCSE study guide on the book. You get the general plot and more focus on Nicholas' central story, and all the other bits get left on the cutting room floor. While those who know the novel inside out may mourn the omissions, those who don't will be entertained by the largely British cast romping through Dickensian England.
Nicholas tries to make a living, first at the horrendous boys' school (with Broadbent and Stevenson perfect as the wicked couple who run it) his nasty Uncle Ralph sends him off to, and then at the eccentric theatre company run by Vincent (Nathan Lane) and Mrs. Crummles (Barry Humphries in drag).
Most of the casting is spot on, but Humphries doing Dame Edna doing Mrs. Crummles is rather bizarre and annoying. Meanwhile, Hunnam isn't quite experienced enough as an actor to carry off being the central character of a film, especially when he is surrounded by a supporting cast of such high calibre as this.
A fun British period drama (which makes a welcome change) on a grand scale, as a Dickens adaptation this is nowhere near as bad as the Gwyneth Paltrow/Ethan Hawke clunker Great Expectations. That said, it's not as good as David Lean's Oliver Twist.