Based on a novel by Charles Dickens, after a young man's father dies, his greedy uncle disowns him and tries to take advantage of his sister.
Ralph Nickleby (Cedric Hardwicke) is an avaricious money-lender. When his brother dies in 1830, he finds a job for his nephew Nicholas Nickleby (Derek Bond) as a teacher working for Wackford Squeers (Alfred Drayton) in a miserable school. Ralph also finds work for his niece Kate Nickleby (Sally Ann Howes) sewing twelve hours a day for low wages. Nicholas stops Squeers from flogging Smike (Aubrey Woods) and leaves with Smike. Ralph gets a letter complaining about what Nicholas did and says he will not help Nicholas nor anyone who does help him. Nicholas says that he will go.
Nicholas rejects a low-paying job as a secretary for a politician. Nicholas and Smike stop at an inn and meet the theatrical producer Vincent Crummles (Stanley Holloway), who hires them as actors, giving them their parts and telling Nicholas to write a play. Ralph lodges Kate and her mother (Mary Merrall) in old cottage he owns and tries to use Kate to attract Lord Verisopht (Timothy Bateson) so that he will borrow money from him at high interest rates; but Kate rejects him.
Meanwhile Nicholas and Smike are successful in Vincent's theatrical troupe, but Nicholas gets a letter from Newman Noggs (Bernard Miles) to come to London. Nicholas meets Mulberry Hawk (Cecil Ramage) and Verisopht at a tavern and defends Kate from them, causing Mulberry's horse to bolt; Mulberry is injured. Kate's mother invites Mulberry and Verisopht to see Kate. Nicholas tells his sister and mother that he got a good-paying position working for the Cheeryble brothers (James Hayter) in a countinghouse. Kate falls in love with their nephew Frank Cheeryble (Emrys Jones).
Nicholas falls in love with Madeleine Bray (Jill Balcon), whose father (George Relph) lives off her meager earnings. Ralph urges Mr. Bray to make his daughter marry the elderly Mr. Gride, but Noggs warns Nicholas about this. Nicholas goes to help Madeleine, and Kate stands up to her greedy uncle. Madeleine finds that her father is dead and faints; Nicholas carries her off. Noggs tells Ralph that Squeers confessed to fraud and informs him that Smike is Ralph's son. Kate and Nicholas take care of Smike, but he dies of tuberculosis. Ralph hangs himself. In the final scene Nicholas weds Madeleine, and Kate weds Frank Cheeryble.
This realistic drama exposes the misery caused by ruthless
greed but shows that virtuous character and perseverance can bring
relief, redemption, and even happiness.