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The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby | Ealing 1947 | Cedric Hardwicke, Stanley Holloway,

Nicholas Nickleby is a long meandering book with a bewildering array of minor characters. An extremely difficult work to squeeze into 102 minutes. But while Dickens fans may regret the loss of so much of the detail and several important events, nonetheless this is a skilful and compelling retelling of the story.

When Nicholas Nickleby’s father dies, he – and his sister and his mother – have to turn to their villainous uncle Ralph (Edward Hardwicke) for support. Ralph is a scheming and callous usurer who is unwilling to help his relatives ("Whenever a man dies without property, he thinks that it is his right to send his relatives to get through other peoples"). He packs off the beautiful Kate Nickleby (Sally Ann Howes) to work as a milliner – before realising he can use her good looks to con more money out of his clients. Meanwhile he sends Nicholas off with the "odd-looking man" Wackford Squeers (Alfred Drayton) to work in a hellish approximation of a school – Dotheboys Hall.

It’s in Dotheboys Hall that the film has some of its best sequences, with Drayton pulling off a fantastically over-the-top performance as the larger-than-life Squeers (who teaches his pupils to spell ‘window’ as ‘winder’), while Alberto Cavalcanti creates plenty of claustrophobic, uncomfortable atmosphere for the nightmare institution. Bond’s performance reaches its best point here too; full of compassion and righteous indignation at the treatment of the boys. He does enough to ensure our sympathy is maintained through a muddled and uninteresting middle section where he flees the school and takes up with a troupe of players.

Fortunately, the pace soon picks up, as Nicholas rushes to rescue his sister from Ralph’s clutches, discovers the love of his life and finally lands himself a good job. Cavalcanti’s depiction of Victorian London is impressive, while Hardwicke gives a strong impression of Ralph’s increasing desperation as all his schemes begin to unravel. His caricatured super-ugly servant, Newman Noggs (Bernard Miles) meanwhile, provides some welcome comic relief as he jumps around in glee at his master’s demise. It’s plain that there’s been a lot of telescoping of the story line as the film hurtles from scene to scene, but this is a necessary sacrifice to the sharp pace, which canters along nicely to a dramatic concluding chase through dark corridors and ill-lit Victorian staircases.

cast
Cedric Hardwicke as Ralph Nickleby
Stanley Holloway as Vincent Crummles
Derek Bond as Nicholas Nickleby
Mary Merrall as Mrs. Nickleby
Sally Ann Howes as Kate Nickleby
Aubrey Woods as Smike
Jill Balcon as Madeline Bray
Bernard Miles as Newman Noggs
Alfred Drayton as Wackford Squeers
Vera Pearce as Mrs. Crummles
James Hayter as Ned and Charles Cheeryble
Emrys Jones as Frank Cheeryble
Cecil Ramage as Sir Mulberry Hawk
Timothy Bateson as Lord Verisopht
George Relph as Mr. Bray
Frederick Burtwell as Sheriff Murray
Sybil Thorndike as Mrs. Squeers

crew
Camera Operator: Jack Parker
Hairstylist: Barbara Barnard
Cinematography: Gordon Dines
Sound Recordist: Stephen Dalby
Special Effects: Lionel Banes
Special Effects: Cliff Richardson
Director: Alberto Cavalcanti
Editor: Leslie Norman
Production (2 )
Producer: Michael Balcon
Producer: John Croydon
Music: Lord Berners
Screenplay: John Dighton
Novel: Charles Dickens

UK | Ealing | 108 minutes | 1947

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