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Britain / Films / Nickleby
The film "Nicholas Nickleby"
  Victorian life
  Charles Dickens
  Further information
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British films: Britain/Films


The film "Nicholas Nickleby" is a classic drama set in England in about 1850. The original story was written by Charles Dickens. The director (Douglas McGrath) also directed the film "Emma", an adaptation of Jane Austen's classic book which starred Gwyneth Paltrow. In the UK, Nicholas Nickleby was released on Friday 27th June 2003.

Nicholas Nickleby (DVD)
Studio: Mgm Home Ent. (Europe) Ltd
Date: November 2003
Nicholas Nickleby (Video)
Studio: Mgm Home Ent. (Europe) Ltd
Date: November 2003
Books by Charles Dickens

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The film starts in the countryside, where Nicholas Nickleby grew up with his loving father, mother and sister. Unfortunately, his father loses his money, becomes ill and dies. Nicholas travels to London with his sister Kate and mother to ask his father's brother (a rich banker called Ralph) for help. He sends Nicholas to become a teacher at a boarding school for boys in Yorkshire. His mother and sister stay in London.

Nicholas hates the conditions at the boarding school. The headmaster Mr Squeers and his wife treat the boys very cruelly. Nicholas makes friends with a boy called Smike, who is forced to work like a slave (in return for food and shelter) because no school fees have been paid for him.

The story concerns the friendship between Nicholas and Smike, and the attempts of Nicholas to help his mother and sister after he learns that they are being treated badly by his uncle. As well as the tense dramatic events, there is also humour and some romance.

Nicholas Nickleby (Original book)
Author: Charles Dickens
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd
Date: 1995
The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby (DVDs)
(Royal Shakespeare Company 9-hour version)
Studio: Metrodome Distribution Ltd
Date: September 2003
The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby (DVD)
(2000 television version of the story)
Studio: Acorn Media UK Ltd
Date: May 2002

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Some of the main characters in the film are:

Nicholas Nickleby (Charlie Hunnam) - the hero of the story, who is gentle like his father (who had the same name)
Kate (Romola Garai) - Nicholas' sister
Nicholas' mother (Stella Gonet)
Ralph Nickleby (Christopher Plummer) - the greedy brother of Nicholas' dead father, who works in London as a banker
Smike (Jamie Bell) - a boy at the school who is made to work like a slave for the headmaster
Wackford Squeers (Jim Broadbent), Mrs Squeers (Juliet Stevenson) - the school's cruel headmaster and his wife
Crummles - a travelling actor
Sir Mulberry Hawk (Edward Fox) - a badly behaved rich man
Madeleine Bray - The daughter of a man who lost all his money gambling (she is trying to make some money as a painter).
Bother Ned & Brother Charles

Some other roles which have been played by some of the British actors in this film are:

Charlie Hunnam (Nicholas Nickleby): one of the stars of the popular Channel 4 television series "Queer As Folk".
Jamie Bell (Smike): the boy who became a ballet dancer in "Billy Elliott".
Jim Broadbent (Mr Squeers): Bridget's father in "Bridget Jones's Diary", and the owner of the dancing club in "Moulin Rouge"
Timothy Spall: the taxi-driving father in "All or Nothing", the actor playing the Japanese emperor (Mikado) in "Topsy Turvy".

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If you are a non-native English speaker, you may find it difficult to follow all of the English used in the film, but this should not stop you from following the story and enjoying the film. Most of the main characters speak with clear accents, except for Mr & Mrs Squeers, who have quite strong Yorkshire accents. For example, when Mrs Squeers is asked what she thinks of Nicholas, she says "I 'ate 'im" (the first "h" is not pronounced), and you can hear "aye" instead of "yes".

A few of the terms you will hear in the film are:

To speculate means to gamble in the financial markets (Uncle Ralph has become rich by speculating).
Brimstone and treacle - a mixture of sulphur and treacle, used as an old medicine which caused vomiting (the schoolboys are given this).
Pilgrim's Progress is a book by John Bunyon (Smike tries to read this, but Mr Squeers does not allow him).
The highland fling is a traditional style of Scottish dancing (performed by one of the actors with Crummles).
Romeo and Juliet is a famous play by the English writer William Shakespeare (Nicholas plays the main role of Romeo).

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The film is set in about 1850, when Britain was ruled by Queen Victoria. It is the time of the Industrial Revolution, when many people moved from the countryside to the towns to work in factories. The new industries created a lot of pollution, as chimneys from the factories released the smoke after burning coal for energy. People still use horse-drawn carriages as the main means of transport.

There was a large gap between rich and poor at this time. In many of his books, Charles Dickens introduces characters who have grown rich from capitalism (Uncle Ralph in this story), and contrasts this with the terrible conditions experienced by some of the poor (such as Smike). There were places known as "workhouses" in Victorian times where very poor people used to work in exchange for food and shelter. The children of the rich would be sent to one of the growing number of boarding schools, but education for the poor was quite limited.

For more about Victorian history, see: Britain/History/Victorian.

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The following places are introduced in the story:

Devonshire (south-west England) - Nicholas' home when he was a child
London - Nicholas travels here to see hsi uncle, who is a banker
Yorkshire (north-east England) - Nicholas teaches at a school here (called "Dotheboys Hall")
Liverpool - Nicholas joins some actors here when travelling

Filming took place in London, south-east England and Yorkshire.

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Nicholas Nickleby [soundtrack] (audio CD)
Label: Varèse Sarabande
Date: February 2003

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Charles Dickens wrote many other famous novels. Among these are:
- Oliver Twist
- David Copperfield
- Bleak House
- A Tale of Two Cities
- A Christmas Carol
- Great Expectations
- The Old Curiosity Shop
- Hard Times

For more about Charles Dickens, see:

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Further information about the film can be seen on the official Nicholas Nickleby website:

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British films: Britain/Films
English literature: English/Reading/Literature
Victorian history: Britain/History/Victorian

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