Writer-director Douglas McGrath indulges his taste for the classics again, having made his feature film debut with Jane Austen's EMMA (1996), then changing pace with an underrated original comedy COMPANY MAN (2000), and back again with Dickens's classic NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. Common Dickensian themes of poverty, social class, and honor come across clearly in this tale of a 19-year-old country gentlemen (Charlie Hunnam) who is suddenly impoverished when his beloved father dies after losing his fortune. Nicholas, with his mother (Stella Gonet) and sister Kate (Romola Garai), find themselves at the mercy of their rich, loutish uncle Ralph Nickleby (Christopher Plummer) who delights only in their misery. He sends Nicholas away to work as a teacher at Dotheboys Hall, a decrepit boarding school attended by sad, soiled, abused urchins. Meanwhile, Kate's reputation is at stake with uncle Ralph trying to marry her off to a foulmouthed client to whom he owes a debt. With the help of his faithful sidekick Smike (Jamie Bell), Nicholas avenges Kate's honor and conspires with some new friends to bring down horrid uncle Ralph. Other filmmakers have attempted to show Dickens' timelessness with modern versions of novels, such as Alfonso Cuaron's GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1998) or even Richard Donner's SCROOGED (1988). McGrath provides a period portrait of which Dickens would no doubt approve. The principle strength here is a large ensemble of fine character actors such Jim Broadbent as the delightfully amoral headmaster Wackford Squeers, the deliciously terrifying Juliet Stevenson as Mrs. Squeers and Nathan Lane as the benevolent dreamer Vincent Crummles.