January 27, 2003 12:00 PM

Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Christopher Plummer, Anne Hathaway

Though Charles Dickens’s novels always feature an admirably resourceful hero or heroine, much of the pleasure to be derived from his books comes from the improbably named and often eccentric supporting characters. Douglas McGrath (Emma), who adapted and directed this version of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens’s 1839 novel about a young man making his way in Victorian England, understands that perfectly. He allows a talented ensemble of character actors to shine brightly in this robust, delectable drama.

There’s Plummer, who practically licks his lips at his own evil as a conniving rich uncle. Jim Broadbent is all sadistic bluster as an abusive schoolmaster. And Nathan Lane fairly purrs as a theatrical impresario who is kind to our young hero. It’s Nicholas Nickleby himself, at least as played by the blond but bland Hunnam, who’s the least interesting person onscreen. (PG)

BOTTOM LINE: Offers a Dickens of a good time

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