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The Personal History of David Copperfield - Movie Review

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The Personal History of David Copperfield

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Armando Iannucci (In the Loop) applies his knack for finding comedic farce in the densest of political narratives to his reimagining of the classic Charles Dickens tale, David Copperfield. He rips a small piece from the novel’s full 24-word title and calls it The Personal History of David Copperfield, a film that has the potential to irritate the Dickens purists, while simultaneously introducing a modern audience to the classic story of the power of perseverance and fortitude. That is, only if audiences will watch it. And with theaters now open but poorly attended and more streaming options than ever, sadly, they likely won’t.

"an engaging visual adventure through the world of Dickens"


 

A brief bit of haphazard research reveals that The Personal History of David Copperfield represents the 14th time Dickens’ eighth novel has been adapted for the big screen. But unlike most adaptations, Iannucci’s take strips out the Victorian seriousness, amps up the comedy and leaves us with a less busy, always entertaining story that, while still set in grim 1840’s London and other equally gloomy locales, contains loads of humor that plays perfectly into today’s woke society.

The film opens with the story’s namesake (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire) lecturing to a live audience about his life’s journey from poor orphan to successful writer in Old Victorian England. Then, just as he utters the famous opening line asking whether or not he will be the hero of his own story, the set’s backdrop opens, revealing his own birth to widowed mother Clara (Morfydd Clark, Crawl), and the family’s housekeeper Peggotty (Daisy May Cooper, Live From the BBC) furiously gathering items to aid David’s birth.

Soon enough, Clara remarries to the abusive Murdstone (Darren Boyd, Four Lions) who eventually ships David away to work in his cruel boot blacking factory before bringing his own pathetic sister Jane (Gwendoline Christie, Game of Thrones) into the new family.

David grows up in the factory, but upon receiving news of the death of his mother, moves in with his eccentric Aunt Betsy Trottwood (Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin) where he lives until he’s sent off to school to become a proctor.The Personal History of David Copperfield

Iannucci continues to amble breezily through Dickens’ classic tale, jumping about from the Blunderstone Rookery where David was born, to London’s filthy fish markets, and to the seacoast near Yarmouth while taking plenty of liberties with the source material, such as condensing the timeline, and separating it into numerous episodes, each unfolding via scraps of paper containing notes our narrator has jotted down about the characters, their quotes, and other story-telling observations. It’s these subtle creative nuances and fourth-wall breaking moments that, along with the tremendous powerhouse performances from a veteran cast, lift The Personal History of David Copperfield above any of the previous film adaptations.

Speaking of performances, not unexpectedly, Swinton and Patel stand out yet never overshadow the all-star cast which also includes Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, Benedict Wong, Hugh Laurie, and others. Everyone involved is operating on a very high level. It’s certainly a testament to Iannucci’s tremendous filmmaking talents that he not only juggles the film’s many moving narrative parts so flawlessly, but also seems to manage quite well the veteran cast which includes more than fifty actors with speaking parts.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is an engaging visual adventure through the world of Dickens, yet we’re also taken on a fulfilling emotional journey as well. Particularly for anyone who has struggled with finding their place in society. Ultimately, the story being told in The Personal History of David Copperfield features the timeless – if not overused – themes of needing to find out who you are and who you were meant to be. It also deals with familial love, unrequited love, family, death and sex. You know, all the things that make us human. What’s more “Dickens” than that? But there’s so much more to be enjoyed in this version that manages to make the 1840s genuinely funny in 2020. Now if we can just get Iannucci to punch up a new adaptation A Tale of Two Cities.

4/5 stars

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor:
Available on Blu-ray

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The Personal History of David Copperfield

MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material and brief violence.
Runtime:
119 mins
Director
: Armando Iannucci
Writer:
Simon Blackwell
Cast:
Dev Patel, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton
Genre
: Comedy | Adventure
Tagline:
From rags to riches... and back again.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Do you have lettuce somewhere covered in ointment?"
Theatrical Distributor:
Searchlight Pictures
Official Site: https://www.searchlightpictures.com/thepersonalhistoryofdavidcopperfield/
Release Date:
May
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
August 28, 2020.
Synopsis: A modern take on Charles Dickens's classic tale of a young orphan who is able to triumph over many obstacles.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

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