The Personal History of David Copperfield
Director: Armando Iannucci
Producers: Armando Iannucci, Kevin Loader
Genre: Comedy Drama
Release Date: 28th August 2020
Release Platform: Theatres
Star Cast: Dev Patel, Jairaj Varsani, Aneurin Barnard, Peter Capaldi, Morfydd Clark, Daisy May Cooper, Rosalind Eleazar, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw, Paul Whitehouse, Benedict Wong, Nikki Amuka, Darren Boyd, Gwendoline Christie, Matthew Cottle, Bronagh Gallagher, Anthony Welsh, Aimee Kelly, Anna Maxwell Martin, Victor McGuire, Peter Singh, Ruby Bentall, Divian Ladwa, Rosaleen Linehan, Sophie McShera
The life of David Copperfield is chronicled from his birth to the present day. David has an idyllic life and is taken to visit the family of his nanny Peggoty (Daisy May Cooper) in their boat house in Yarmouth. When he returns, his young and widowed mother Clara (Morfydd Clark) has married the sinister and cruel Mr. Murdstone (Darren Boyd), who beats the boy.
The abused David Copperfield (Dev Patel) is sent to work in Murdstone's factory where he lodges with Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi) and his family, who are pursued by their creditors. After being told of his mother's death and funeral, David escapes from his life of drudgery and finds his wealthy aunt Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton) and her lodger, the eccentric Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie). After troubling problems with Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard) and Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw), Betsey Trotwood finances David’s ambition to become a gentleman and author.
‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ is a brilliantly funny re-telling of the classic Charles Dickens novel. Though the movie is largely comedic, there are moments of violence although even they are often played for laughs. In one scene, a young David Copperfield (Ranveer Jaiswal) is beaten by his stepfather, Mr. Murdstone (Darren Boyd) - a character whose cruelty extends to informing Copperfield of his mother's death only after her funeral.
In another scene, Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton) and Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw) repeatedly slap each other across the face before an older Copperfield (Dev Patel) punches Heep to the floor. While at sea during a vicious storm, a character falls from his boat and drowns. His body is seen laid out on the shore.
Director Armando Iannucci's approach to casting means that this take on the classic story is far more diverse than those that have come before.
The most striking part is in fact this diversity in casting. Cinematic depictions of 19th century London have traditionally underestimated the city’s racial variety, but the filmmakers are doing something more than merely reflecting contemporaneous demographics.
Patel’s David is apparently the only person of South Asian descent in his immediate family. Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard) is white. His mother (Nikki Amuka-Bird) is black. The film profits from the fact that it has long been commonplace in theatre.
The familiar strikes of Dickens’ classic are here, only given a polish by Iannucci and co-writer Simon Blackwell. Beginning in an earnest fashion, the film sets up a meta framing device with an older Copperfield performing a live reading of his autobiography. It’s a dull setup which is traditional and not much experimented with!
The same goes for the entire early section of Copperfield’s story. Even at a 2-hour runtime, there’s a quickened pace through Copperfield’s childhood. Born to a widowed mother (Morfydd Clark, who plays dual roles), Copperfield lives a happy life until she is wedded to the stern, abusive Mr. Murdstone (Darren Boyd). Along with his spinster sister (Gwendoline Christie), Murdstone conspires to have Copperfield sent away to work at one of his bottling factories, where the boy would toil away for years in poverty: everything preserved in Dicken’s style.
A few of the novel’s subplots that were the key to understanding Copperfield’s feelings about love and class division are not addressed in proper details.
Several characters aspire to climb in social class, which sometimes leads to them acting deceitfully and, in one case, illegally. But the overall messages are of generosity, friendship, family, and recognizing what's really important in life.