This Dickens adaptation is marked by some fine acting by an ensemble cast and some less-than-great acting by its lead Charlie Hunnam as Nicholas Nickleby. The beginning is encouraging. When the Nickleby family arrives in London in the 1850s with its dirt streets and poverty and meets their horrible uncle Ralph Nickleby (Christopher Plummer), the tale is fairly engaging. But it's quick into the film with the arrival of Smike (Jamie Bell, the star of Billy Elliot), a crippled orphan trapped at a sadistic boarding school, that the film descends into teary-eyed ridiculousness. Awful violin strains arrive on cue whenever there's a particularly poignant moment and they seem to come every five minutes. The only break from these violins is when Nicholas and Smike briefly join a theater company, which includes the likes of Jim Broadbent and Alan Cumming hamming it up. Even more so than in a movie like Spider-Man, the good characters in Nicholas Nickleby are utterly good and the bad are horribly evil. Dickens wrote it that way, so it's not all director Douglas McGrath's fault, but mostly he gets credit for this weepy stinker of a film.
by Adam Bregman review