Updated: Jan 27, 2020
The Personal History of David Copperfield Movie Review
Director Armando Iannucci has a delightfully eclectic CV; The Death of Stalin, In the Thick of It and Alan Partridge are just some of the innovative pieces that bear his hallmark. His sharp satirical eye is always in evidence and works like a dream on this Charles Dickens classic. This version returns to the story's origins as an autobiographical tale told by the title character himself.
The film begins with David Copperfield (Dev Patel) relating the story to a live audience much as Dickens would have done during his reading tours. An excellent visual transition leads him to the scene of his birth with mother Clara (Morfydd Clark) deep in labour assisted by faithful servant Peggotty (Daisy May Cooper). This is followed by episodic snapshots of Copperfield's life; his brutal treatment at the hands of stepfather Edward Murdstone (Darren Boyd); a miserable existence at the bottling factory and friendship with the bumbling but lovable Mr Micawber (Peter Capaldi). Eccentric Aunt Betsey (Tilda Swinton) provides a sympathetic bolthole as an intricate story slowly builds to a climax.
Iannucci displays a wonderfully light touch and keen eye for visually arresting narrative. The sounds and colours are evocative of London in the 1850s; although a breath taking shot of Parliament under construction is all too brief. Dev Patel heads a superlative cast with a number of players competing for best cameo. Paul Whitehouse as Mr Peggotty and Hugh Laurie as Mr Dick are a joy; as is Ben Whishaw playing the duplicitous Uriah Heep. The work of Charles Dickens is frequently plundered by film makers; but David Copperfield is especially popular with characters that lean more towards caricature with obvious comic potential. The author’s genius is plainly obvious and this film feels authentically closer to the world in which he lived.
Whilst there are recurring Dickensian themes of social inequality, it can on occasion be extremely funny. Deft timing and smart wordplay combine to produce some irresistible set pieces. The cinematography undoubtedly gives the film an ethereal quality, and can indeed take the viewer back to the Victorian era. This is how you remake a classic with an essential spin that separates it from the rest; other film makers should look and learn.