THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD sees the brilliant writer/director Armando Iannucci adapt Charles Dickens’ classic novel into a delight from start to finish.
It’s always lovely to finish a movie with a big grin on your face and THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD is certainly a film to deliver that. In these lockdown times, that’s relished even more than usual. But the brilliant writer/director Armando Iannucci’s new version of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, sharing the screenplay credit with Simon Blackwell, would stand tall at any time. Because not only is it a superbly humorous and sometimes tragic retelling of the topsy-turvy life of one David Copperfield – a fabulously charming performance from Dev Patel – in its colourblind casting, it’s a superbly modern presentation of Victorian life.
Initially, when I saw the trailer it was The Grand Budapest Hotel that came to my mind. Because just like Wes Anderson with his own A-list cast, Iannucci has assembled quite the most extraordinary ensemble to tell his incredible tale. But with DAVID COPPERFIELD, it’s a British A-list. So take a breath, there’s…
In scene after scene, we see this dizzying collection of talent strut their acting stuff as these iconic Dickensian characters and it’s glorious to watch. If I had to single out a few choice characterisations then I’d pick Ben Whishaw’s superbly undesirable Uriah Heep, Tilda Swinton’s wacky and wonderful Betsey Trotwood and longtime Iannucci collaborator Peter Capaldi as the iconically devious Mr Micawber. I’d also mention a couple of eye-catching portrayals by newcomers Rosalind Eleazar as David’s childhood friend Agnes and the brilliantly versatile Morfydd Clark who appears in two vastly different roles as David’s mother Clara Copperfield and the gloriously ditzy Dora Spenlow, of whom David is very enamoured.
DAVID COPPERFIELD has always been seen as a semi-autobiographical tale by Charles Dickens, the master writer and social critic. Published first as a serial in 1849 then as a novel in 1850, it originally had the title ‘The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account)’. I think it’s this wit which seems inherent in Dickens’ original title that Iannucci seizes upon in his hilarious new interpretation. As the events of the story are told in the first-person and we hear David recount his life from childhood to when he’s a young man trying to make his way in the world as a writer, each moment is deftly presented in all its humanity and sometimes chaotic brilliance.
“Don’t worry. You’ll make it through. And you’ll have quite the ride on the way.”
Patel’s David tells us. You most certainly will have “quite the ride” with one of the films of the year. See it.