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Movie Review

The novel by Charles Dickens spans 800 pages. The film clocks in at a merciful—and very entertaining—two hours. Says Douglas McGrath, the screenwriter-director of Nicholas Nickleby (PG), "Apart from the fact that I’ve taken 70 percent of the book out, I still feel I’m being very true to its spirit." Purists may bristle, but this compact version has pathos, humor and lots to discuss.

It’s 1839. When a man’s death leaves his wife and two teenage children penniless, the trio visit his brother, a shrewd London investor who uses their desperation to exploit them. Pretty young Kate is expected to charm her uncle’s leering clientele. Nicholas gets sent to work for a nasty couple who run a boarding school. The lad bonds with a crippled boy named Smike whom he rescues from a flogging. They flee the school, join an offbeat group of stage performers but have their acting careers cut short by news of Kate’s trials. Nicholas rushes to defend his sister’s honor, then takes a job in London and falls in love with a sweet girl also in need of his heroic decency.

Mature situations involve sexual harassment, cruelty to children and a suicide by hanging. There’s alcohol use, but it’s implied that drunkenness leads to ruin, as does gambling. The film vilifies selfishness and greed while exalting loyalty, dignity, bravery, self-control, friendship and faith in God.

When the despicable uncle crows, "People who wish to be thought of as good are always weak!" we know nothing could be further from the truth. That’s why Nickleby shines. It makes a ponderous classic accessible to teens, challenging them to courageously, compassionately live out Luke 10:25-37 and make the suffering of others their business.


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