Review of “Nick Nickleby”

9 Nov

This week, the BBC treated us to a five-part mini-series based on Charles’ Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickleby, with the slightly modified title of Nick Nickleby, in which the events of the novel were adapted to the world of modern, post-financial crisis Britain.

It having been a long time since I last read the novel, I shall not attempt to compare and contrast on how faithful the adaptation to the present has been. Rather, I wish to convey my sheer enjoyment of the story. Nick Nickleby tells an exciting, comic and tragic tale that perfectly captures the grotesqueries of Dickens’ characters, translating them into modern equivalents. Initially Nick and his sister seem annoyingly naive, but he eventually becomes a dynamic protagonist determined to right the world, whilst she faces up to the reality of what her uncle wants her to do to guarantee the funding he needs to take over Britain’s care homes.

The basic plot is one not unfamiliar in the current climate as the Nickleby family, upon the death of Nick Nickleby, senior, discover that they are deep in debt and have lost their home. With nowhere else to turn, they head to London and estranged Uncle Ralph, who is not pleased to see them, until he realises that his niece is the pawn he needs, dispatching Nick off to work in a care home that he owns in order to get him out of the way. Naturally, Nick uncovers the seedy shenanigans at his new place of work and, mistaking his uncle for a decent man, alerts him, only to learn the hard way that he is the villain of the piece. Fleeing with elderly resident, Mrs Smikes, he seeks to thwart his uncle’s evil plans for his sister and the elderly of Britain, whilst attempting to evade the clutches of the law.

Dotheboys Hall is transformed into Dotheolds Hall, an equally oppressive establishment, Ralph Nickleby’s flagship care home, under the management of the wonderfully repulsive father-and-daughter duo, the Squeers, in an extremely apposite commentary upon the quality of care for the elderly. Mrs Smike is played as wonderfully eccentric and every character encountered is entertaining and surprisingly realistic, despite being caricatures.

I laughed through all five episodes, but was also held fast by the desire to see just what would happen next as every one of Nick’s attempts to put the world to rights came to naught as his cunning uncle outmaneuvered him until the very end, when the truth did out and the oily villain finally got his comeuppance.

Although some purists might not like it, I think that most who have enjoyed Dickens will find that Nick Nickleby is a worthy recasting of the tale, and those who have little familiarity with Dickens or who are not fans will still likely to enjoy this thrilling and highly amusing story that rings true to our times. Highly recommended.

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