A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie has child abuse, some tense and upsetting family scenes, and sad deaths. A character commits suicide and it is portrayed as a just response to a terrible revelation. There is a brief and somewhat graphic childbirth scene with a nude baby.
What's the story?
Nicholas (Charlie Hunnam) and his sister Kate (Romola Garai) grow up in a small house in the country, until their financially-strapped father dies. Then, the family must go to wealthy brother Ralph for help. Nicholas and Kate take the jobs Ralph procures for them, not seeing Ralph's opportunistic ways towards them. Nicholas teaches at a boys' school, while Kate works for a dressmaker. The schoolmaster and his wife abuse the students, especially parentless Smike (Jamie Bell). Nicholas tries to care for and teach the boys, but he's unprepared to address the cruelty. Eventually, Nicholas flees with Smike. They meet up with an acting troupe led by the spectacularly theatrical Vincent Crummles (Nathan Lane) and his wife (Barry Humphries), and the two are happy with the actors until a letter comes from Kate, who's being abused by her employers. With Smike in tow, Nicholas returns to London and denounces his uncle, who swears revenge. With the help of the kind and generous Cherryble brothers and a few melodramatic revelations, Nicholas and Kate manage to find true love and happiness.
Is it any good?
Screenwriter/director Douglas McGrath has produced a respectful condensation of Charles Dickens's rich and sprawling novel. McGrath focuses on the heart (in both senses of the word) of Dickens' story, the struggle by Nicholas against his uncle's attempts to corrupt or destroy him. Although he has had to jettison many colorful characters and huge sections of the story, his skillful paring preserves the essence of the novel's tone and themes and the result is thoroughly satisfying on its own terms.
Dickens books lend themselves beautifully to film. He created strong, very distinctive characters, gorgeous dialogue (the movie is worth seeing just for the way Lane delivers Crummles' speeches), wonderfully dramatic stories, and dastardly villains, true-hearted heroes, love, hate, revenge, comedy, and tragedy. McGrath and his actors clearly view this as a labor of love. Every detail is beautifully realized, with one of the best ensemble performances of the year. The one exception is Hunnam as Nicholas. It is a challenge for any actor to play a good-guy hero whose job is to react to all of those vivid characters, but Hunnam never manages to show us anything of Nicholas' growing depth and resolve.
Talk to your kids about ...
- In theaters: December 27, 2002
- On DVD or streaming: July 22, 2003
- Cast: Anne Hathaway, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Broadbent
- Director: Douglas McGrath
- Studio: MGM/UA
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 132 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic material involving some violent action and a childbirth scene
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