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Thread: The 2002 film of Nicholas Nickleby

  1. #1
    Jim Spreckels

    The 2002 film of Nicholas Nickleby

    The novel Nicholas Nickleby, being early in the career of Dickens, has faults of execution and structure and garrulousness which he corrected progressively in his later works. There are so many subplots in NN, so that though it is Dickens's first fairly well sustained novel, it is still half in the world of the "sketches" G. K. Chesterton speaks of. This is one reason why a film of the book is vital to its lasting value. As the computer age increases patience with antique styles of writing (not counting Shakespeare's, which is not antique in the deepest sense) will become less and less read. But a film that carries the story well can be a treasure to set beside the book, and it can lead many people to go back to the book and read it for themselves. <br> With these thoughts in mind, I think Nicholas Nickleby has an important place right now in helping Charles Dickens keep his place in the popular imagination. I refer to the felicity of filming the novel just at this time, this juncture. The 2002 film is a boon to the tradition of Dickensian admiration. The story in NN has all of the characteristics of idealism and hope, charm and sentiment, good vs. evil, and other qualities, available in Dickens stories long widely familiar, like A Christmas Carol or Oliver Twist. Those qualities made those more familiar stories as famous as they are, yet somehow NN got left behind in the familiarity and fame departments. The Carol, especially, one can hardly avoid completely each and every Christmas. Who would really mind going through a Christmas, by now, without having to hear the names Scrooge and Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchett one more time? Yet a Christmas devoid of Dickens is unthinkable. So what are we to do? Film other early Dickens novels that have the same warmth and magic as the ones we know best, that's what. NN is the perfect choice for this objective.<br> Look at how it is now. One or more of the films of the Carol is always on television at the end of the year, more ubiquitous in December than It's A Wonderful Life and almost as ubiquitous as snow. Oliver Twist was once made into an Oscar Winning Best Picture musical film. And David Copperfield and Great Expectations, with all the periodic versions of them that come from the BBC and such, are more familiar and represent the Dickensian world and its flavors in the common mind more than NN has had a chance to do. (I suppose there have been British television films of NN in the past, but they have not stuck in many people's memories.) We tire of the Dickens of the Carol because, though it is a great story, it has been told over and over until it has become hackneyed. To be old-fashioned is one thing, to be hackneyed is another. The old-fashioned charm of Dickens remains, even in the 21st century, an indispensable part of a modern human being's literacy and taste, even if there is too much sugar (or saccharine) in that taste. But if Dickens is to remain immortal in the common mind, and keep his place in common literacy, it is necessary that he become known for more of his stories than are present common fodder for our Christmastime idleness. We must not tire of Dickens simply because we are overfamiliar with only a small part of him. <br> That is where NN comes in. The Old Curiosity Shop or Dombey & Son would not have come in, as a major feature film right now, as well. And later Dickens novels have dirt that has sunk into the soul as the early works do not. So NN is the choice.<br> Nicholas Nickleby, though it has little in it that is directly about Christmas, is the present story for freshening up the Dickensian spirit. And it has elements the Carol or Oliver lack. We get not one but two pair of Romeo-&-Juliet lovers. At this point I move to a small aside in reaction against a view of Chesterton. Whether Nicholas should have married Miss Bray or another girl, he at least marries a girl who has the proper purity and grace. And it is a bit untrue, as Chesterton claims, that Madeline Bray is not a hero, or heroine: after all, it is hard to look after a spiteful and bitter father who was never good to you. Once may wonder how or why good people in Victorian fiction manage to love family members who do not love them back (after all, Nicholas and Kate do not care much for their uncle), but the subject is more than one of respectability---of wearing a proper family face. Madeline is a heroine to a degree, because when she must mourn her father's death her grief is more than saccharine: she has lived and worked in the honest hope that he would one day come round and feel or realise the truth of love. What might seem mere oversweetened treacle (like those awful Dotheboys meals without the brimstone) from one angle might actually be something more, from the implicit perspective of the Victorian mind: it might come from the assumption that people do good things out of hope, even if it is unrealistic. That could be seen as a kind of heroism, Mr. Chesterton. <br> However, for Madeline's sake, I have digressed from what I was trying to point out. Nicholas Nickleby has all the qualities we associate with Dickens plus a romantic dimension not found in more familiar stories. Thus, the recent film of NN, screenwritten and directed by Douglas McGrath, is the Dickens film I have been waiting to see for years. Though taking out so many of the subplots may be said to make the story less rich (especially leaving out Kate's griefs as a seamstress), yet for all the loss of Wititterlys and Snevellicis in the film, so much richness remains and the lines of the story become so clear that the slimming is an advantage. It gives a clarity to the emotional development of the plot. (I much enjoyed, years ago, seeing the film of the complete-plot stage production, immigrated to Broadway from the Old Vic, with Roger Rees as Nicholas, but that was a different medium with a different message.)<br> Director McGrath has a fresh touch with the material, and transforms about 89% of the treacle or saccharine into a more pleasant and palatable sweetener. This film should become a treasure to set beside the book, as the film of The Wizard Of OZ is a film to set beside L. Frank Baum's original novel.<br> I hope the 2002 film of Nicholas Nickleby will become popularly recognized as a classic and become shown frequently, on cable and network, so that we can think of NN as much as of CC when we approach the Christmas season or when we remember the romantic ideals of long ago. I saw the film twice, and though I can't say I balled at the end, I did notice that both times little rivulets of liquid were coursing down my cheeks.

  2. #2
    Registered User Neverland1247's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    In my dreams, Middle Earth
    Do you ever use paragraph breaks?
    I highly doubt the movie is so essential to the survival of NN. After all, with a book so intricate, it's quite hard to edit in the same way as in a children's novel. If Dickens had alotted that much time for revision, he would have been dead before he reached chaper six! And of course, we really must credit Dickens for inventing the whole of NN. The movie directors only did casting; moods usually lie deep within the text, waiting for the finding. The atmosphere was not "created" or "enhanced" by the movie, but rather embodied. It seems to appeal more to visual learners, however, who may believe that embodiment of text is the only way to fully grasp a manuscript.

  3. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2010
    By the City by the Bay
    Lol about paragraph breaks. I made it almost four lines in before I gave up.

    I thought the DVD was well done. In fact (it almost shames me to say this) it's the reason I read NN; I knew that much of the dialogue had to be lifted directly from the book, which I found to be a very enjoyable tale. It's also the first book I ever read on-line, one screen at a time on a BlackJack II. That's pretty tough going, but still not as rough as waiting for each successive serial/chapter publication back in the day.

    That said, any major work of literature will make some changes and compromises during the transition to the big screen. For example, I don't know anyone who was a fan of Tolkien's LOTR that hasn't been critical of some of the choices Peter Jackson made. But that's what being a director is all about: you get to slice it up how you choose in order to fulfill your own vision for the story.

    In the end, those who choose to expose themselves only to the theatrical versions of literature are shortchanging themselves, but of course they probably don't realize it.

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