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About The Production
Academy Award®-nominated writer/director Douglas McGrath is best known for his acclaimed adaptation of Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow. But even before Emma, he's long been interested in telling the story of Nicholas Nickleby. "Many years ago I saw the landmark Royal Shakespeare Company production that ran nine and a half hours long," he says. "It was the most thrilling theatrical experience I ever had, and I never got it out of my head. It was absolutely amazing.

"Strangely enough, though," he continues, "as I was watching it, I saw there was a fairly simple way to cut it down and make a good movie by just following Nicholas' story – the heart of the story – which is a perfectly gripping and wonderful tale in itself."

As actor Timothy Spall says, "It's a bit like getting an ostrich into a thermos flask," but when it came time to choose a new project, McGrath took up the challenge of adapting – and condensing – Dickens' epic novel. The result is a streamlined screenplay that pays homage to Dickens' complex, witty tale and does justice to the vast scope of Nickleby's incredible, humorous, and touching journey.

The hill has not yet listed its face to heaven

that perseverance will not gain the summit of at last.

- Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

Once McGrath finished a draft of the script, he showed it to producers John Hart and Jeffrey Sharp of Hart Sharp Productions, a New York-based production company whose recent credits include Boys Don't Cry and You Can Count on Me. After reading the screenplay, they were immediately smitten with young Nicholas and his colorful circle of friends and enemies.

"I fell in love with Douglas' adaptation," says Sharp. "I felt the story was every bit as relevant to our world today as when it was written. Dickens was one of the foremost social commentators of his day. Particularly with Nicholas Nickleby, as its serialization progressed in the newspapers, it uncovered many injustices in the way children were treated at the time. I also love Dickens' theme of creating a family in the absence of one, which is what Nicholas does throughout his journey."

With a script in their hands, McGrath and the producers decided to hold a dramatic staged reading to explore the material and get a better picture of what they had. "We knew it would give Doug a personal opportunity to hear his words for the first time with actors," says Hart, "and for us as producers to get a sense of how the adaptation would work with an audience. We also wanted to invite potential studio distribution executives. In particular, Bingham Ray from United Artists expressed early interest in the project and was a big fan of Doug's from Emma."

On Mondays in New York City, most theatres are dark and the performers have the day off. That made it possible to assemble an excellent group of actors for the reading. "We really hit the jackpot," says Sharp. "Nathan Lane was starring in ‘The Producers' at the time, so he came. Tim Curry joined us. Christopher Plummer, Alan Cumming, Anne Hathaway – just an incredible assortment of talented individuals. The reading exceeded our wildest dreams." UA's Ray was also impressed, and he greenlit the project; a new Nickleby was well on its way.

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