Nicholas Nickleby
Twilight Time // PG // $29.95 // December 13, 2016
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted January 1, 2017
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Nicholas Nickleby Blu-ray Review Nicholas Nickleby is based upon the classic novel written by beloved novelist Charles Dickens. The adaptation focuses on the story of Nicholas Nickleby: a young man aged 19 who tries to help the lives of others who are negatively impacted by his wealthy but unfair and cruel Uncle. Produced by Simon Channing Williams (The Constant Gardener), Jeffrey Sharp (Proof), and John Hart (Revolutionary Road), Nicholas Nickleby is often impressive and charming (if also somewhat brief) as an adaptation of Dicken's huge novel.

Nicholas Nickleby (Charlie Hunnam) sets out from home to find work from his wealthy uncle Ralph Nickleby (Christopher Plummer) after the passing of his father. Nickleby is given a job working within a boarding school for children. To Nicholas's horror, he discovers the people running the school, including the leader Wackford Squeers (Jim Broadbent), emotionally and physically abuses the children. While staying at the school, Nicholas befriends Smike (Jamie Bell), a cripple, whom he becomes a close friend to and to whom he treats like a brother.

Upon deciding to leave the boarding school and it's cruel leaders behind, Nicholas and Smike set out to find work elsewhere. They travel away from the school and stumble upon a theatre troupe run by Vincent Crummles (Nathan Lane). Though the pay is not as good, Nicholas accepts an offer to join the troupe. Nickleby and Smike begin to work with them as actors: they become stage performers and help with the productions (including one of Romeo & Juliet). Within the troupe, they meet a range of eccentric characters, including Mr Folair (Alan Cumming), an odd and unique individual invested in the theatre.

Kate Nickleby (Romola Garai), Nicholas's sister, is sexually harassed by Sir Mulberry Hawk (Edward Fox), a business partner of their wealthy uncle. Though Kate rejects his advances, Mulberry continues to harass her to sleep with him and makes cruel jokes and unwanted advances to her: suggesting to his business acquaintances that she desperately wants to sleep with him and is just too shy to admit her feelings (the notion is met with a table full of jubilantly laughing men; all delighting in the humiliation of Kate).

Ralph Nickleby, an increasingly cruel Uncle, believes Kate should accept Hawk 's sexual advances. He treats her like a pawn in his business dealings. Nicholas, upon learning of his sister's misfortune and sexual harassment from Hawk, defends her to their uncle. Their uncle then sets it upon himself to try and destroy the life of Nicholas for his defense of Kate and for Nicholas's attitude towards his business.

Though many things are grim for Nicholas, he finds some happiness when he meets Madeline Bray (Anne Hathaway),  an artist of little wealth who supports herself and her gambling father, and discovers his own affections for her. Nicholas begins to fall in love with her and a romance ensues between them.

 Nicholas sets about helping his sister and others around him who are being unfairly treated by his uncle. He takes a stand against his cruel and cold uncle. The film (and story) is sprawling, attempting to tell a large story of Nicholas's life from youth to being a young man. The film interweaves supporting characters and sub-plots but it's ultimately a story about Nicholas's journey. It's also a definite parable about what is important in life: though Nicholas may not be wealthy like his uncle he has friendship, love, and compassion for others: all things his Uncle, a wealthy business man, lacks entirely.

The cinematography by Dick Pope (Happy Go Lucky, The Illusionist) is strong throughout and adds to the style of the filmmaking. This is an impressive looking film which seems to work in bringing this time-period to life. It works well with the production design effort by Eve Stewart (The King's Speech, The Danish Girl), which manages to convey the often grim reality of the era: the poverty of the boarding school and the thrown-together look of the theatre troupe. Costume designs by Ruth Myers  (L.A. Confidential, Deep Impact)  add to the look of the film. This is certainly a impressive effort by the production team.

The music score by Rachel Portman (Benny & Joon, The Cider House Rules, The Duchess) adds a warmth and heart to the filmmaking that is much appreciated. Portman's music enhances the  storytelling of Dicken's and makes the film a much more enjoyable one. This is absolutely a quality score.

Douglas McGrath (Emma) wrote the screenplay adaptation of Dicken's novel and directed the film as well. The film is commendable for its impressive ensemble cast (especially as so many talented individuals were involved in this production) and for its attempt to adapt the work of Dickens with heart. The film does feel a bit short, though: sometimes it feels like a cliff notes version of Dickens work.

Unfortunately, it feels as though Nicholas Nickleby isn't able to fully convey the entire novel, which was a massive literary work. The story jumps around pretty fast and it feels like not enough time is spent with each setting or group of characters in the film. The film might have had more breathing room as a mini-series. Nonetheless, the film offers a good story, excellent production values, and a decent time. It's a good film that is worth one's time: it just falls a bit short of its high ambitions. Nonetheless,  Nicholas Nickleby is an interesting period-drama which has plenty to offer for Dickens fans.

The Blu-ray:


Video:


Nicholas Nickleby arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC high definition presentation in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen. The film looks strong and sharp for the most part in its high definition debut. It's certainly a worthwhile transfer that presents the film with a decent high-def upgrade. The downside is that the transfer can look a bit dated and not fully remastered. There are occasional specks of dirt, dust, and the film can show some signs of age already. It's not a pristine 4K restoration. However, this is a modest and worthwhile upgrade which fans of the film will appreciate having. The presentation delivers robust colors and decent clarity.  

Audio:

The film is presented on Blu-ray with both a 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless audio presentation. The film is not the most dynamic sounding effort even with surround sound. It's a standard presentation for a drama film. This isn't as immersive a audio experience as some might want. Dialogue clarity is fine and the music score sounds good and is expanded by the surrounds. Otherwise, it's a pretty ordinary sound mix and not one that stands out as being particularly exciting. However, the overall clarity remains strong and it's a decent audio presentation.

Subtitles are provided in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing).

Please Note: This is a Region Free Blu-ray release.

Extras:

The release includes a booklet featuring an essay by Julie Kirgo.

On disc supplements include:

Isolated Score Track in Lossless 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio

Audio Commentary with Director/Screenwriter Douglas McGrath

Creating a Classic: The Making of Nicholas Nickleby (SD, 29 min.) features the filmmakers discussing the production of the film.

The Cast on the Cast! (SD, 17 min.) features interviews with the cast as they reflect on the performances of their fellow actors for the film.

View on the Set: Multi-Angle Feature -

- London

- The Theatre

- The Kidnapping

- The Proposal

- The Toast

Original Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts:

Nicholas Nickleby is an impressively mounted production of Dicken's classic novel. The film offers a great ensemble cast (which deliver excellent performances). The production design impresses throughout. The film is an entertaining period-drama but it's also a bit too brief in telling the story. It may have been even more effective in mini-series form. Nonetheless, it's certainly a worthwhile film which has plenty to offer.

Recommended.


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