Douglas McGrath is a 45-year-old screenwriter who received an Oscar nomination for writing Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway. He made his directorial debut with Emma (1996), starring Gywneth Paltrow. Nicholas NicklebyÂ is his third feature and again he revisits the classics, this time a Dickens novel.
Nicholas Nickleby has previously been adapted 152 times for the big and small screen so American McGrath set himself a very tall order. He gathered a varied cast including veterans Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent and Juliet Stevenson together with newcomers Charlie Hunnam, Romola Garai, Anne Hathaway and Jamie Bell. To this mix he added cameos from Barry Humphries (doing a Dame Edna), Alan Cumming, Timothy Spall and Miranda Richardson. The veterans put in very strong performances but this only serves to show up the weaknesses of some of the newcomers. Hunnam, who plays Nicholas Nickleby, will be very familiar to readers as the British hero of Queer As Folk. He manages to find an opportunity to take his shirt off as a teacher in Do-the-boys Hall as though he were wishing himself back in his old role.
McGrath’s version is an uneven but stagy, almost gay, version of Dickens’s classic, especially so given Christopher Plummer’s very camp version of Uncle Ralph, Dame Edna’s role as Mrs Crummles and Alan Cumming, the kilt-wearing Mr Folair, who is desperate to do the highland fling. This Nicholas Nickleby isn’t that memorable but it is colourful, bawdy lightweight entertainment that is more than easy on the eye.