Review: The Personal History Of David Copperfield

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Review: The Personal History Of David Copperfield

Dev Patel stars as the heroic orphan turned novelist in this marvellously spirited new adaptation of Charles Dickens’s esteemed novel.  

‘This narrative is far more than meer fiction’. Based on the novel by Charles Dickens, The Personal History of David Copperfield centres around the title protagonist, played by Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, 2008, Lion, 2016) and leads us through his unconventional journey from impoverished orphan to blossoming writer and gentleman in Victorian England. 

With a handful of critically successful political satires under his belt, (In The Loop, 2009, The Death of Stalin, 2017) it seems strange for writer-director, Armando Iannucci to put his hand to something a little bit more whimsical. 

When you think of Charles Dickens your thoughts don’t necessarily fall on the funny and light-hearted side of Victorian Society, but more on the hardships of the poor and their struggles to achieve greatness. However, in the case of Iannucci’s adaptation, Dickens’s subtle and witty humour makes its presence known and Iannucci provides us with a surprisingly fresh and vibrant take, bringing to life the semi-autobiographical Dickens novel with an absolutely delightful result.

Photo: IMDB

The film boasts a tremendous colour-blind cast, lead of course by its star, Dev Patel and including the likes of Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Peter Capaldi, and Paul Whitehouse. Hugh Laurie’s sweet-natured portrayal wows as Mr Dick, providing a sort of nostalgic performance, reminiscent of his Bertie Wooster days. While Ben Whishaw inhabits the creepy, suck-up scrounger that is Uriah Heep so completely, repulsive hair-cut and all.

But one of the film’s most pleasing features is its fantastic scene transitions, provided by Iannucci and performed wonderfully by the cast. As we open to Patel, introducing his life’s story to an eager theatre crowd, we follow him as he walks into an open-air backdrop, the scene spins on its axis exposing sunlit farmland where we follow Mr Copperfield into the beginnings of his life, starting with his birth. This particular technique continues throughout the film and provides an aesthetically pleasing way of progressing the story, almost like turning the page of a book.

Photo: IMDB

The playfulness continues from there leading us through Copperfield’s life, one important event after another, meeting the wonderfully mischievous and eccentric characters, created lovingly by Dickens, along the way. Readers of the beloved classic may, however, be disappointed with the cutting of some major character plots and some missing famous quotes, but this adaptation exudes excitement and energy and will more than makeup for any shortcomings.

It’s witty, it’s bright and above all it’s entertaining. Armando Iannucci presents a richly satisfying experience, bringing a charming and tasteful spin to a cherished Victorian classic.

Also published on Medium.