The Personal History of David Copperfield – Film Review
by Frank L.
Director: Armando Iannucci
Writers: Simon Blackwell (screenplay by), Charles Dickens (novel)
Stars: Dev Patel, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton
Based on Dickens’ great novel of 1840 which is approximately six hundred pages in length, Iannucci and scriptwriter Simon Blackwell present it in a mere two hours. David Copperfield as a boy is played by Janveer Raiswal. He quickly passes to adolescence and manhood where he is played by Dev Patel. This colour-blind casting enables Dickens’ novel to traverse into a more diverse society and Patel’s masterly performance will change how the character “David Copperfield” is perceived. What gives the aspect of diversity even greater resonance is that other parts have also been cast colour-blind. It works!
Another joy in the film is the legion of comic moments it generates. Iannucci in “The Death of Stalin” managed to generate funny situations at unlikely times and here again he manages to perform the same miracle as when David Copperfield is informed that his mother is ill, he enquires how ill only to be told “dangerously ill” but immediately one of the company says in a deadpan voice “she is dead”. It is black humour of the first rank.
While the casting of Patel as Copperfield was inspired it does not stand alone. Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton) and Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie) are a combination of the eccentric and the mentally unbalanced who combine in a gentle understanding. Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi) and his long-suffering but absolutely adoring wife played by Bronagh Gallagher are a joy to behold as they manage to stay financially afloat in a manner of speaking. Rosaleen Linehan as Mrs. Gummidge croaks her words so every ache in her bones can be felt. Edward Murdstone (Darren Boyd) and Jane Murdstone (Gwendoline Christie) are respectably callous in their treatment of the young David. They and many other characters make for a rich and varied diet of what contributed to a society at work and play. None of them are secure; potential ruin lurks in the shadows and there are many shadows.
This procession of characters are placed in grim factories, delightful parlours, bustling streets in a never-ending kaleidoscope of situations which engage visually. “Mr. Peggoty’s delightful house” as Dickens himself described it is a joy to behold. The costumes ring true to the essence of the 40 illustrations of “Phiz” which adorn the novel. But yet there is a modernity and a sense of the contemporary which keeps this joyous adaptation firmly relevant to the here and now.
Iannucci has made this adaptation out of love and admiration of Dickens’ great novel. His casting and choice of location add to the original and makes something new which stands alone entitled to be enjoyed and admired in its own right. In short, Iannucci has done “David Copperfield” proud.