The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby – the movie (2001)

Poverty, destitution, death, physical cruelty but also kindness, a great secret and happiness, this movie has them all. Set in the early Victorian era, the story follows the fate of young Nicholas Nickleby and his family after the death of his father. Left destitute, the Nickleby family turns to Ralph Nickleby, Nicholas’s uncle, for help. The many adventures that follow, as they are aptly called, deal mainly with the efforts young Nicholas, nineteen years old at the time, makes in trying to provide for his mother and his sister, Kate.

Ralph Nickleby is the rich uncle who appears to make some effort in helping the poor family. In him Dickens has created a perfect example of the lonely, cold hearted man whose only goal in life is money, the only power he accepts and understands. His offers to help both Nicholas and Kate end badly.
Through his connections, Nicholas is offered a position as a tutor at a school for boys in Yorkshire, a place he soon comes to see for what it truly was: a sort of prison for small boys whose relatives send them there to be educated and, in the case of young Smike, abandons them. Soon, Nicholas leaves the place, taking Smike with him and the two become good friends. Smike’s mysterious past comes into focus when a strange man comes asking after him at the boy’s school after he has left it. The man makes a few appearances here and there – he reminded me of Magwitch, a similar character in Great Expectations, and in the end it is him who reveals Ralph’s secret and sheds light on Smike’s past.

The whole atmosphere of the movie was very well created. The poverty-stricken population, the wealth of the noblemen, the cruelty of both poor and rich, the kind-hearted people – I was captivated by the story and for a little over three hours I was totally immersed in the lives of the characters. Charles Dance was very convincing in the role of the ruthless uncle, and young Nicholas played by James D’Arcy (who had several roles in Cloud Atlas) brought to the screen a believable fresh-faced innocence combined with the rashness and passion of youth. I haven’t read the book so I can’t make any comparison but if the movie is any indication, it probably is a masterpiece.

Here’s the movie (2 parts), if you want to watch it:

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13 Responses to The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby – the movie (2001)

  1. Brian Joseph says:

    Thanks for the great review. I also have not read the book and I have not seen this movie version.

    It has been a while, but I have seen the 1947 film vesion which I rememeber really liking.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Brian,
      I found a trailer for the 1947 version that you mentioned. The acting seems very different from the one I watched, it reminded me of “Gone with the Wind” – more dramatic and rushed somehow.

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  3. Vishy says:

    Beautiful review, Delia! This is the first movie review of yours that I have read and it is wonderful. I read the abridged version of the novel last year and I found it very interesting and liked it. I think the original novel would be even better. Glad to know that you liked the movie so much. Thanks for the links to the movie. I will bookmark them and watch them sometime.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Vishy,
      I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the book, did you write a review? The movie was quite good, not too over the top dramatic but not flat either, a perfect balance of elements. If you get to watch it, I’ll be curious to know how it compares with the book.

      • Vishy says:

        I didn’t write a review, because I read the abridged version. Maybe I should have. Nice to know that the movie version is perfect. Will look forward to watching it soon.

        • Delia says:

          Is that a reason not to write a review? 🙂
          Looking forward to your thoughts, if you get to watch the movie. I thought it was great, but then I could watch these kind of movies all day long.

  4. Caroline says:

    This sounds great. I hadn’t heard of it. I’m very glad you reviewed it. I hope I can find it.
    I was thinking of Magwitch as well. I think he has a few similar characters in all of his novels.

    • Delia says:

      You want to read the book?
      After watching a few movie adaptations of his novels, it is obvious he has quite a number of characters that can be found again and again in many of his novels.

  5. Caroline says:

    Not at the moment. I really need to stop buying books (how many times have I said this before) and the one I already have is Bleak House.
    I can understand why some people want to read all of him. I think TBM has almost finished readaing all of his novels.

    • Delia says:

      That sounds familiar, but it’s really difficult not to, isn’t it? 🙂 There are so many great books out there…
      That’s great, she must really like his work.

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