Upon the death of his impecunious father, a young man (Charlie Hunnam) throws himself, his sister and his mother on the mercy of his rich uncle (Christopher Plummer), a heartless villain who only wants these poor relations out of his way—alive or dead, it makes no difference. Charles Dickens’ sprawling, melodramatic early novel (with foreshadows of David Copperfield
and Oliver Twist
) gets a sterling adaptation from writer-director Douglas McGrath (Emma
). McGrath necessarily eliminates whole plot threads and many characters, but what remains bustles with vivid Dickensian life. Performances are note-perfect in a superb cast that includes Jamie Bell as the pitiful Smike, Nathan Lane as an itinerant showman and Barry Humphries (a.k.a. Dame Edna Everage) as the showman’s wife.