The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

The Personal History of David Copperfield
Director: Armando Iannucci
Writer: Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci
Based on: Charles Dickensnovel
Cast: Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Rosalind Eleazar, Morfydd Clark, Ben Whishaw, Benedict Wong, Daisy May Cooper, Gwendoline Christie, Darren Boyd, Aneurin Barnard, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Fisayo Akinade, Matthew Cottle, Jairaj Varsani
Seen on: 9.10.2020

After his father’s death, David’s mother Clara (Morfydd Clark) got married to Mr Murdstone (Darren Boyd) who doesn’t really want anything to do with David (Jairaj Varsani). So at the first chance Murdstone and his sister Jane Murdstone (Gwendoline Christie) send David off to London where he is forced to work in a bottle factory and lives with the always-hounded-by-creditors Mr Micawber (Peter Capaldi). David grows up there in harsh circumstances, but when he hears that his mother died and he wasn’t even notified to attend the funeral, he has had enough. Grown by now, David (Dev Patel) makes his way to his aunt Betsy Trotwood (Tilda Swinton), hoping to find more luck there. But it’s only the beginning of his journey.

The Personal History of David Copperfield has an almost anarchic sense of humor and a wonderful energy that made it absolutely entertaining and just a blast.

The film poster showing a colorful collage of the characters of the film, with David Copperfield (Dev Patel) taking center stage, between red curtains.

I read some Dickens when I was a kid – Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol, I think – but I’m afraid that I was too young to understand either properly and I couldn’t really get into it. And while I generally like exploring what is considered literature classics, that memory of just finding Oliver Twist so very boring kept me from giving Dickens another try. But I think that this film has now convinced me to at least give David Copperfield that chance. There was just so much good stuff here, especially in the way they play with language – and I assume that is something that they translated from the book to the film.

But the film certainly has qualities that the book can’t have. For one, there is the stellar cast. And it’s not only beautiful to see that a period film can have that many people of color, just because (and not giving a damn about genetics and leaving the entire thing unremarked upon). They were simply fantastic – above all Dev Patel who is the bubbling, charming and enthralling center of the film. The only casting decision I found slightly creepy was having Morfydd Clark play both David’s mother and one of his love interests. I mean, her Dora is simply fantastic, but, you know, eeek.

David (Dev Patel) arrived at his aunt Betsy Trotwood's (Tilda Swinton) place where she lives with Mr Dick (Hugh Laurie). But she doesn't pay him much attention because she is busy screaming at donkeys.

In addition to the great cast, the film is just lavishly produced. The sets, the costumes, the color – it was a visual feast. So much so that things sometimes moved almost too fast for me to be able to appreciate it all. That being said, though, the fast pace and sense of energy the film is instilled with are a huge part of why it works so very well (and how it manages to cram so much story into a two hour film that feels shorter).

In short, I really enjoyed myself and the film with its sense of humor and its deep core of humanity. Even if assholery sometimes outweighs the good, it always comes back to a place of love. That’s the kind of positivity that we can all do with more of, I think.

David (Dev Patel) lying in a pile of paper, one of the pieces in his mouth.

Summarizing: fun times.

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