Paul Batters at Silver Screen Classics
is our host for The 2020 Classic Literature On Film Blogathan
on April 3rd, 4th, and 5th. Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Jeopardy! early March 2020. Category: Literary Twins
"This alliterative title Dickens character works for the wealthy Cheeryble twins, and his sister Kate marries their nephew."
All three contestants stood silent until the time ran out. My husband laughed at my shock because, after all, Nicholas Nickleby
was written a very long time ago and I had better get used to the world moving away from Dickens, with the exception of A Christmas Carol
and possibly Oliver Twist
. He almost convinced me there was merit to his argument.
Charles Dickens, however, to quote an earlier blog post of mine, "was one of the best idea men of all time." The movies are always going to need ideas, and to get them why not go to the best? Nicholas Nickleby
is far from the most prolific example of Dickens screen adaptations, yet this story has been on screen in silent form, in short form, in motion pictures, and various television mini-series.
The Royal Shakespeare Company version of the 1839 novel adapted by David Edgar was a 1980s theatrical phenomenon that saved the fortunes of the Royal Shakespeare Company, won Tony Awards on Broadway and was awarded the BAFTA and Emmy for its television presentation.
The Chichester Festival mounted their production in 2006, with David Edgar trimming two hours off of his original 8-1/2 hour-long production. It is this production we enjoyed live at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre with David Yelland as Ralph Nickleby.
Dickens threw so many ideas into this successful third novel (after serialization) that you would think this was his last kick at the can. The villains are vile to equal the kindness which comes to our hero, and which he bestows on others. The long arm of coincidence reaches out thrillingly. It is a tale in which to lose oneself.
The first feature film of Nicholas Nickleby
was released by Ealing Studios in 1947. Brazilian-born Alberto Cavalcanti directed following his well-received films Went the Day Well?
and Dead of Night: The Ventriloquist's Dummy.
John Dighton (Kind Hearts and Coronets
) adapted the unwieldy novel for the screen.
Cedric Hardwicke, Derek Bond
Ralph Nickleby, Nicholas Nickleby
Dickens's characters are so vivid that their names become associated with their characteristics. A misstep in casting would be immediately spotted by an audience familiar with the story. There are no such missteps with Michael Balcon's adaptation. Derek Bond was 27 when he played the leading character. Sally Ann Howes was 17 when she played Kate Nickleby. Bernard Miles was the perfect Joe Gargery in Great Expectations
for David Lean and the perfect Newman Noggs in our picture.
Who among us wouldn't have cast Stanley Holloway as Vincent Crummles and Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Ralph? James Hayter is both the Cheeryble twins. He would bring Samuel Pickwick to life in the 1952 film The Pickwick Papers
, and play Mr. Jessop in Oliver!
Bernard Miles as Newman Noggs
From Wackford Squeers to the Mantilinis to the Brays and Miss La Creevy, care was taken that each one familiar with the story would say to themself "that is exactly how I pictured them."
Nicholas, his sister Kate and his recently widowed mother go to London in hopes that their late father's brother, Ralph Nickleby would find himself disposed to help these country relatives. Ralph Nickleby is a mean and miserly man who is annoyed by his grubby relations. He sets the women up in a derelict home he owns in the east end and arranges for Nicholas to be employed in a Yorkshire school for boys.
Dotheboys Hall under the leadership of the revolting Squeers family proves to be a hellhole for youngsters and an endless source of cash for its owners. Nicholas chaffs at the abominable Squeers, ultimately beating the schoolmaster and taking under his wing a poor misused soul called Smike.
Cecil Ramage, Sally Ann Howes, Tim Bateson
Sir Mulberry Hawk, Kate Nickleby, Lord Verispopht
Nicholas renounces any assistance from his odious uncle and strikes out on his own with Smike, as long as Ralph continues to protect his mother and sister. Nicholas's one true friend in London is Newman Noggs. Employed by the hated Ralph, Noggs can be depended upon to keep Nicholas apprised of the truth of his family's situation. Kate is secured work as a seamstress at a fashion house where she is ill-treated due to jealousy. Kate is a pretty girl whom Ralph uses to attract customers to his money lending business.
Stanley Holloway, Aubrey Woods, Derek Bond
Vincent Crummles, Smike, Nicholas Nickleby
Nicholas finds work for himself and Smike in a theatrical troupe of dubious artistic endeavour, but of infinite benevolence and sense of fun. Vincent Crummles embodies in one, the conceit of the artist and the generosity of those who must share to get by.
Aubrey Woods, Derek Bond, Sally Ann Howes, Mary Merrall
Smike, Nicholas, Kate, and Mrs. Nickleby
The Cheeryble brothers mentioned above, are kindly men who take a liking to Nicholas, who returns their generosity with his loyalty and hard work. Nicholas and his hated uncle are brought together in, of all things, a matter of the heart that begins with a debtor named Bray and his lovely daughter Madeleine.
Circumstances and actions will bring happy romance to some, and deaths to others. One will be mourned and one will face a lifetime of vile actions leading to official and spiritual justice.
A mini-series is the best format to give the story its due. Time constraints force the omission of some characters and the unfortunate pruning of various incidents. Nicholas's story is one the audience should be allowed to immerse itself in, to replicate the emotional connection one gets through the novel. In the film, we flit from one incident to the other, not given the opportunity to fully enjoy the company of the characters we like or to see more of what makes the nasty ones tick. Nonetheless, it is a treat to see these memorable characters brought to life so vividly.
Unfortunately, I find Lord Berners's score to this version a little too on the nose in backing up the melodrama. The assistance was not necessary. It is the force of the actor's portrayals that draws the audience into the abridged screen telling of the story, creating fond memories and a wish for more (if I may borrow from that Twist lad).