The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby
November 9, 2019 7:15 AM   Subscribe

In 1980, Royal Shakespeare Company created The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby, an 8 1/2 hour long adaptation from David Edgar of the 900-page novel by Charles Dickens, directed by John Caird and Trevor Nunn. A very theatrical production with a lot of momentum and an outstanding cast, originally presented across two nights or one very long day, it was filmed for television in four parts. [YT playlist, 4 videos, very long watch]
posted by hippybear (14 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Let it be known that this is not a Masterpiece Theater-type Dickens adaptation, but a fast-moving, stylized piece of theater unlike anything before or since - or at least, that was my impression when first viewing "Life and Adventures" in the 80s. I can't wait to see how it holds up on second viewing. Thanks for posting.
posted by Modest House at 7:26 AM on November 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

I believe Dickens, who enjoyed performing his stuff, would have utterly loved this and would have insisted on being in it.
posted by Segundus at 7:52 AM on November 9, 2019

I can not get enough of Dickens' adaptations on film and stage. Mo' Dickens, mo' better.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 8:14 AM on November 9, 2019

Has anyone adapted Knickerless Knickleby by Edmund Wells?
posted by SansPoint at 8:52 AM on November 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

This was a surprisingly big deal back when it happened and got a lot of press with some talk that maybe schools should set aside time to show it. It received mention as being "the best" or one of the best "movies" of the time, even though it was on stage and filmed for TV.

It's fame didn't last long as there wasn't much way to see it after a spell and an eight hour prestige TV adaptation of a staged Dickens work is an odd artistic niche to try and sell people on, so it seemed to be all but forgotten shortly thereafter, despite not really deserving that fate.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:18 AM on November 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

I remember this as A Thing, but also I had a ten year old’s attention span so for me it was mostly a thing that meant I couldn’t watch any good TV before bed.

Now I have the patience but I’ve gotta finish Ken Burns’ ROOSEVELTS miniseries first. Only eight more hours to go!
posted by fedward at 10:19 AM on November 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was in the audience. There was not a moment spared, from start to finish. The game, from them chucking bread into the audience, just drew us in. I was enraptured every moment. The actors, who sat at the edge of the stage when not on-scene, were great. I felt that the actors and the audience were collaborators, telling this great story. That was the hook: you are the storytellers.
posted by SPrintF at 10:25 AM on November 9, 2019 [7 favorites]


Dammit, you beat me to this. :) This and The Sale of Two Titties are my favorites.
posted by indianbadger1 at 12:07 PM on November 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

David Threlfall's standout performance as Smike inspired the Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones parody Walter And Smike Try To Make A Cup Of Tea.

The sketch hasn't dated well (content warning: offensive anti-ableist comedy), but it illustrates how avant-garde Channel 4's arts programming seemed at the time, compared to the safe, middlebrow television that we'd all grown used to under the cosy BBC/ITV duopoly of the 1970s.
posted by verstegan at 12:34 PM on November 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for this!! My sister and I watched this as kids rapturously when it was on PBS originally, revelling in every single moment. Our single mom worked nights and made sure we watched--never was there an easier sell! So excited to have this youtube link we can rewatch and share with our own kids.
posted by riverlife at 2:05 PM on November 9, 2019

I saw a live production of this at the Blackstone Theater in Chicago when it had started touring. I don’t recall it terribly well, but I don’t recall it being unbearable due to its length.
posted by hwestiii at 4:35 PM on November 9, 2019

This and The Sale of Two Titties are my favorites.

Ah, yes, by the noted Dutch author Charles Dykkens.

"Nicholas Nickelby" was a huge deal when it ran on Broadway, and I remember the great excitement about it being shown on PBS. As I recall, this was Roger Rees's breakout role (you might remember him from "Cheers" as Robin Colcord, the rich English guy who Kirstie Alley was trying to nab).
posted by briank at 4:54 PM on November 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

We had a Betamax in 1980 - this is the first thing we recorded, and the first videotape(s) (EIGHT TAPES FOR EIGHT HOURS) I ever wore out. Downloading as I type.
posted by tzikeh at 5:05 PM on November 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I also remember this as being a bit of an Event. I even briefly had a D&D character I based on Nicholas.
posted by tavella at 9:39 PM on November 10, 2019

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