Nicholas Nickleby

This is the gayest film version ever of a Charles Dickens novel. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The author may have laughed (I know I did) watching Nathan Lane ham Mr. Crummles, master thespian, and Barry Humphries (a.k.a. Dame Edna) don drag to play Mrs. C. Then there's Alan Cumming (the ambisexual MC in Broadway's Cabaret) popping up to do a highland fling. Great Scot!

But is director Douglas McGrath (Emma), who condensed Dickens' third novel into a two-hour movie, pushing the joke? To play Nicholas, the fatherless boy who teaches orphans to help support his mother and sister, McGrath cast Charlie Hunnam, the bottle-blond Brit who made his name screwing older men in Showtime's Queer as Folk. Jamie Bell, the twinkle-toed star of Billy Elliot, plays Smike, a cripple who stares adoringly at Nicholas. And no wonder, since Nicholas removes his shirt even in the dank cold of Dotheboys Hall (pronounced, at least in this film, as do-the-boys).

It's a wonder, then, that Christopher Plummer steals the show without resorting to camp as Nicholas' wounded and wounding Uncle Ralph. It's a great performance and a reminder of Dickens' grandeur. This Cliff's Notes of a film, though lively fun, only hints at that. No matter. I'll take the hint.

From The Archives Issue 230: January 13, 1977