Director: Amando Iannucci
Starring: Dev Patel, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, Benedict Wong, Paul Whitehouse, Rosalind Eleazar, Gwendoline Christie, Morfydd Clark, Darren Boyd
Written by: Amando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell and (based on the novel) Charles Dickens
Running Time: 119 mins
Release date: 24th January 2020
Charles Dickens’ work has always been a rich source for filmmakers to plunder, whether it be the countless versions of A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist, to the epic retelling of Little Dorritt. Now comes a new version of David Copperfield but one that is the likes we have never seen before. In the hands of comedic genius Amando Iannucci, the creator of The Thick of It, Veep and the brilliant The Death of Stalin, this comes as a surprise choice as a follow-up to the 2018 hit. Yet Iannucci hasn’t just taken the classic journey of a boy to manhood in the traditional sense. He has added colour. Real colour, in the most inclusive way possible.
A young man addresses a theatre audience with tales of the journey of self-discovery. This is the story of a young David Copperfield and the collection of characters who forged his way into the world and made him the man he is. From being loved and adored by his widowed mother to being forced to work in a bottling factory to his encounters with always in debt Mr Micawber and finding sanctuary with his eccentric aunt, Betsy Trotwood and her equally strange friend, Mr Dick.
It would have been straightforward to follow the same route as previous adaptations of Dickens 600+ novel, drowning the sets with grim and poverty while bringing together actors who fit the norm of what we perceive how a Dickens story should look. Yet Iannucci has done that. He has added vibrancy and beauty, with sprinklings of charm and warmth.
The design of the film is bright and light, with the occasional scene in a darker palette, how we are used to seeing the novels being interpreted. However, Iannucci has taken the bold decision not only to brighten the landscape but the cast as well. Everywhere you look throughout the film, there are faces of colour. Different ethnic backgrounds mix with the white faces of conventional costume dramas. Yet they never seem out of place or questioning why they are there. Iannucci has moved forward with the times, in which everyone should be equal, no matter who they are. Ironically, it works like a charm.
The story, which is placed as a theatrical performance, works wonderfully well, as the older Copperfield watches over his younger self until he has grown. The colour of the film is matched by the colour of the characters — all exaggerated but never to the point of ridiculous. From the evil of Copperfield’s step-father, all hair and eyebrows, to the cheekiness of Mr Micawber, always needed a bob or two, to the dottiness of his aunt and Mr Dick. Each one has their place on the odyssey of manhood, and each compliments the other.
At the heart is Copperfield himself, an outsider and our eyes on this road of discovery. As the lead, Dev Patel is magnificent, bringing a warmth and depth, managing to bounce from comedy to drama without dropping a beat. It is perfect casting for an actor he gets better with every role. As the assortment of oddities he meets along the way, Tilda Swinton is hilarious as the donkey-hating Ms Trotwood, Hugh Laurie is at his most Hugh Laurie-ist as the Charles I obsessed Mr Dick. Benedict Wong, in a smaller role of accountant Mr Wickfield, steals each scene with his obsession with drink.
The Personal History of David Copperfield is a funny, heartfelt adaptation that captures you from the start and never let us go. It’s a brilliant way to introduce new viewers to Dickens and a perfect antidote to the troubles of the world today. See it and come out with a smile on your face.