Based on the famous and beloved novel by Charles Dickens, Armando Iannucci (Veep, The Thick of It, The Death of Stalin) brings us this fresh new take on David Copperfield. And it’s like no other Dickens adaptation you’ve ever seen before.
Dev Patel stars as Copperfield, the star and narrator of the story which charts his personal rise from rags to riches during Victorian England. We begin though with Copperfield as an adult, recounting his life story to a small theatre audience as he steps into a painted backdrop behind him on stage, transporting him, and us, to the location of his birth. He enters the family home and continues to narrate from within the scene as his mother struggles with labour. It’s just one of a variety of wonderfully inventive storytelling devices that the movie employs throughout.
While the chaos of childbirth plays out, the first in a long line of star-studded supporting characters arrives, David’s eccentric Aunt Betsey (Tilda Swinton), and we immediately get a glimpse of the kind of humour Iannucci has brought to the story as she sets about upsetting Peggotty, the family housekeeper, and declares that the baby will definitely be a girl.
From there, the storyline is fast paced, weaving between locations as David grows up – from an overturned boat house in Yarmouth, to the chaos of London and the difficulties of working in a bottle factory, and on to the Kent countryside. Along the way we meet yet more big names, including Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Laurie, Paul Whitehouse and Benedict Wong. Not to mention countless other recognisable faces.
The Personal History of David Copperfield is a real mixing pot of beautiful visuals, quirky humour and larger than life characters. Realism has been ditched in order to deliver a whimsical tale that is accessible to all ages. Unfortunately though, it just didn’t work for me. Aside from the opening scenes, and the occasional moment later on, the humour didn’t land at all. In fact, I got more laughs from the incredible movie Parasite that I saw just the night before seeing this.
Dev Patel, always impressive and enjoyable in everything he does, is charming as David Copperfield and is definitely the standout. Benedict Wong and Hugh Laurie were both enjoyable, but I felt the others all suffered from a script that just wasn’t strong enough. A beautifully shot movie, bold and bright and vibrant, but instantly forgettable.