Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Personal History of David Copperfield: Movie Review

The joyful juncture between youth and maturity.
Similar to how director Armando Iannucci’s previous film The Death of Stalin is sort of based on real events, The Personal History of David Copperfield is sort of based on Dickens’ David Copperfield, which, in turn, is sort of based on real life. It’s a fantastical, upbeat, energetic take on Charles Dickens’ tale with Dev Patel's excellent turn as the titular mischievous orphan.   2019

Directed by: Armando Iannucci

Screenplay: Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci

Starring: Dev Patel

As a novel, David Copperfield is considered Charles Dickens’ juncture between youth and maturity, which is exactly what Iannucci has picked up on in this adaptation. It’s a smart film but one that is infused with youthful exuberance and optimism. Dev Patel plays David Copperfield; his father has passed away, his mother is left on her own until she marries a mean man who ships young David off to live with poor acquaintances.

A story that could easily drag on with one unhappy situation followed by another, is instead flipped on its head, and David finds the joy and slapstick humour in the unique oddities of each group of people while still being acutely aware of the unfairness of life.

 There’s a fantastical element which really fits the tone of the movie. David often finds himself in houses and groups of people that are delightfully bizarre and out of this world. A nanny who briefly takes him in, lives in boat with a family referred to as lobster people. It’s an old boat, moored on the shore, upside down and turned into a house. When that flips to a different setting, the background is turned into a canvas painting and ripped away to reveal a new, delightfully bizarre and out of this world scenario. My favourite features Hugh Laurie as an eccentric cousin of David’s eccentric aunt, who believes King Charles I has infiltrated his head, and all of his words are weighing him down. David tells him he understands, shares his own writing from all the people he has lived with, and helps set him free. It’s poignant but there is no time for that to set in before we are whisked away on another adventure.

The casting has frequently been referred to as modern, because one would assume Dickens’ characters are all White, but you could also just call it casting the best actors for the part. It’s a true ensemble with multiple characters inhabiting each setting and every single one of them returns for later scenes to help (or hinder) David on his journey. Each character has a distinct personality, and it’s the allowance that the film gives each character and situation to find its own voice that keeps the film so lively and joyful, or in other words that juncture between youth and maturity.