Friday, January 03, 2003

Nicholas Nickleby (IMDB) (Netflix)
This Charles Dickens classic has been remade more often than Enron's financial results, from Victorian theatrical productions to a 1903 silent film to a nine-hour Broadway play. And why not, it's got all the elements of a great populist yarn: evil financiers, abused street urchins, beleagured families and heroic youths railing against oppression. The Nicklebys, minus the recently deceased father, unwittingly put themselves at the mercy of Uncle Ralph (Christopher Plummer), whose unctuous manner poorly masks his exploitive tendencies, and even blood relatives aren't safe. Nicholas (Charlie Hunnam) ends up teaching at Mr. Squeers's abusive school for unwashed boys, and Sis (Romola Garai) gets fixed up with one of Ralph's leering investors.

A host of other character actors, including Jim Broadbent, Edward Fox, Tom Courtney, Nathan Lane and Juliet Stevenson, fill in the supporting roles with relish and wit--there's no subordination to the leads here and they make the most of their screen time. There's also no grayscaling in the personas; you're either bad person or a good one, and character development is nil over the two-plus hours. No matter, this story is about bad guys getting their comeuppance, and us enjoying it. Some of the logic of the ending escapes me, but by that time I had been well won over by the humor, heart and warmth.