Directed by Douglas McGrath, starring Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent, Juliet Stevenson, Romola Garai, Tom Courtenay, Nathan Lane and Anne Hathaway.
Who decides that adapting another Dickens novel for the big screen is a good idea? It certainly didn't work in 1998 with 'Great Expectations' and it doesn't work any better here. 'Nicholas Nickleby' feels like one of those 16-part BBC period drama yawnfests, with its dull voice-over and baroque musical backdrop.
The Nicklebys find themselves on the breadline when their father dies and travel to the big grey city to seek help from a rich uncle, played by Christopher Plummer, who isn't feeling particularly generous. Throw in a miserable school for unwanted children, a half-hearted love interest and plenty of death. And if that doesn't make you want to boil your own head, the two-hour-plus running time might.
However, it's not without redeeming moments. Jamie Bell puts in a solid performance as the pathetic but loveable young Smike and Jim Broadbent delivers some of the funnier lines as nasty schoolmaster, Squeers. In one scene he reads out the letters sent by the kids' parents. "Yer granny's dead and yer uncle's taken to the drink," he scoffs, before pocketing cash intended for one wretched child.
The biggest weakness is the performance of Charlie Hunnam in the title role. With his shock of blond hair and dodgy accent, the relative newcomer – who played Nathan in 'Queer as Folk' – couldn't be flatter if he was done over by a steamroller, Wily Coyote-style. It seems bizarre to give somebody such a big part when they appear to have so little charisma.
Director Douglas McGrath's adaptation doesn't know whether it wants to be a serious drama or a daft comedy. There's one scene where Nicholas' sister, played by Romola Garai, spontaneously bursts into tears and then stops a second later. Something tells me Dickens didn't intend for his characters to be this hammy. And the drama/circus group subplot is also odd: while Nathan Lane as its leader does what Nathan Lane generally does quite well, the usually hilarious Alan Cumming is weak.
By the time all the various ends are tied up, you could be too comatose or agitated to actually care. This is for Dickens die-hards only.