The Personal History of David Copperfield is a lightning bolt to the film industry. A punch in the face, if you will. Armando Iannucci (known for the satirical riot that is The Death of Stalin) directs a bizarre but equally as magnetic adaptation of the semi-autobiographical Charles Dickens’ novel. Iannucci’s concentrated modern vision rips through the Victorian setting, yet he manages to stay true to the heart and soul of Dickens’ story. It is a film full of colour, laughter and life, where Copperfield’s perspective threads different stories together in a bid to find his own voice and form his own story.
Copperfield tells the story of his life, from birth to adulthood. The first significant turning point comes when his mother (Morfydd Clark) remarries to a cruel and calculating man named Mr Murdstone (Darren Boyd) whose sister (Gwendoline Christie) is equally as cold and disturbing. The charitable lead is thrust onto a journey of self-reflection anchored by the quirky caricature-like characters he meets along the way.
The colour-blind casting is incredibly refreshing with British-Indian actor Dev Patel taking on the charismatic titular role; it’s safe to say that the lead role was left in capable hands. Patel plays Copperfield with his heart on his sleeve, emphasising that in a world of madness there is still sparks of hope left.
Iannucci’s non-traditional period cast is a push forward for the film industry. All the acting in Iannucci’s film is superb, especially with big names playing characters like Copperfield’s eccentric great-aunt Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton) and aloof Mr Dick (Hugh Laurie) who exist to reinforce the temperamentality of the upper class in Victorian times. These two characters are undeniably memorable, and a wonderfully dysfunctional duo that reinforces the comedic narrative.
Copperfield navigates through Victorian England with an open-heart and a good moral compass, encountering ridiculously hyperbolic characters like his wholesome housekeeper Peggotty (Daisy May Cooper), the hilarious poverty-stricken swindler Mr Micawber (Peter Capaldi), creepy vulture-like Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw), and beautifully played Agnes (Rosalind Eleazar) who is the daughter of alcohol-loving Mr Wickfield (Benedict Wong).
Copperfield’s character development is nourishing as he meets each character and learns from them, whether that be the language they use or the stories they tell. Every step along the way, he picks up on the different qualities of the remarkable set of people he meets, such as linguistic elements involving accent and dialect, but also mannerisms and ways of looking at life.
The camerawork amps up the energy that the film exudes. From the close-up shots, floor-to-ceiling angles, serene outdoor wide-shots and handheld camera action just for fun, Iannucci’s direction takes audiences on a wild-ride of Copperfield’s perspective.
It is the strong characters with big personalities, and even more cluttered sets and stories to match, that are at the beating heart of the film. Iannucci’s charming arrangement of the characters is reminiscent of a showroom with bright-coloured patterned furniture and accessories that clash. In theory, it shouldn’t work but somehow everything compliments each other, producing a vibrantly unique creation. The Personal History of David Copperfield is eccentric, bold, daring, and a whirlwind adventure where all the puzzle pieces satisfyingly fit together through the heart-felt voice of David Copperfield.
Image Credit: Movie DB
Flo Cornall is a Screen Contributor.
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