The Personal History of David Copperfield has been a long, long time coming. One of my most anticipated movies after a successful festival debut in 2019, the period comedy soon jumped to 2020… and we all know what happened then. So, one could imagine my glee when a release date was finally announced. However, that led to one question. Would the feature live up to the hype? Well, here’s everything you need to know about The Personal History of David Copperfield.
The Personal History of David Copperfield follows the titular character (Dev Patel) as he moves through his life from birth. There’s a grimy factory, an evil stepfather and dozens of delightful characters, in between the trials and tribulations of life. Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Peter Capaldi, Gwendoline Christie, Rosalind Eleazar, Ben Whishaw and Benedict Wong costar in the movie. Armando Ianucci directs the film from a script he co-wrote with Simon Blackwell— from a story by Charles Dickens, obviously.
The movie follows on the heels of Emma. which hit theaters just before the pandemic. Both films provide sterling examples of how the stories we’ve deemed untouchable classics can still evolve. These works don’t have to be stuffy and untouchable relics. In The Personal Life of David Copperfield, Ianucci creates a snappy, diverse and thoroughly modern take on the classic tale, all while creating a work that still feels faithful to the original Dickens.
From the opening frames, The Personal Life of David Copperfield is an absolute masterclass in acting, with almost too many performances worthy of individual attention.
Dev Patel once again shows in this performance why he’s truly on the road to greatness… If he’s not there already. As a role, David Copperfield is a challenging one. He’s onscreen for a majority of the film as well as serving as narrator. As such, there’s no place to hide. Yet his performance is poignant and heartfelt. However, Patel shines just as brightly in the comedic moments. He carries the narrative with a beautiful, yet somehow effortless and at-ease screen persona. His performance alone– particularly for fans of the young actor– makes this movie worth seeing.
At the same time, the supporting cast surrounding Patel is equally brilliant. Particularly worthy of note is Hugh Laurie’s take on Mr. Dick. The performance harkens back to the actor’s comedic roots in works like Blackadder. Laurie sells a number of the movie’s laugh-out-loud moments, particularly in his banter with the equally amazing Tilda Swinton. The two seem to have perfect timing working opposite each other. However, he easily finds the heart and humanity of his character as the story plays out. In the hands of another actor, Mr. Dick could just as easily have become the butt of the joke or a figure of ridicule. However, Laurie brings this man, along with all his struggles and eccentricity, to the screen in a joyous portrayal.
To complete the trifecta, Peter Capaldi makes his post- Doctor Who, live action, return to form in a part that is sure to delight Whovians the world over. The actor is in rare– and utterly manic– form as Mr. Micabwer, a man permanently down on his luck in working class, Dickensian England. He’s an absolute joy in the role and very much plays a vital part in not only hammering home Ianucci’s trademark tone, but also the modern flair that sets the movie apart.
At the same time, Ianucci’s direction and the strength of Blackwell’s script propels the film through its two hour runtime. The movie avoids falling into any struggles with pacing or tone, which can be common in period stories of this sort. In fact,The Personal History of David Copperfield flows very much like Ianucci’s other works. The director is best known to audiences for his writing and direction on the television series Veep, as well as the feature Death of Stalin.
Finally, the movie brings a distinctly modern feel to this retelling of David Copperfield. Ianucci and his visual team combine seamlessly to bring an artistic, pastoral and picturesque feel to the feature. This extends to everything from the shooting, to the lighting and even the costumes by Suzie Harman and Robert Worley. The behind the camera execution in The Personal History of David Copperfield really pays off in a film that is as interesting visually as it is in its script, and performances.
The Personal History of David Copperfield has been on my most anticipated list since information first began circulating about it in 2018. Luckily, the hype and anticipation due to a number of delays paid off. The feature combines a tremendously talented cast and the creative genius of Armando Ianucci, resulting in one of the best films of this brief cinema year. There is so much to like here, especially for fans of the movie’s vibrant cast and creator, or even of Dickens himself. If you’ve made it this far, definitely make time for The Personal History of David Copperfield.
The Personal History of David Copperfield opens in theaters August 28th.