Starring: Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie
Director: Armando Iannucci
Running Time: 119 mins
The Personal History Of David Copperfield is a British film about the life of young David Copperfield, from his beginnings in nobility to working in the factories of London, and back and forth between riches and rags.
Eccentric in every sense of the word, director Armando Iannucci offers up a delightful oddity in the form of his offbeat adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel. It’s funny, charming and heartfelt all the way through, and while it may lack the biting satire and charisma of Iannucci’s best works, there’s no denying how enjoyably strange this film is.
First things first, this film isn’t a straight adaptation of The Personal History Of David Copperfield, but nor does it intend to be. It follows the original story as closely as it can, providing an engrossing coming-of-age tale of rags to riches that soars with the inspiring drama of Dickens’ story, but the film stands on its own two legs with its delightfully offbeat persona.
Because, rather than simply recounting the classic tale as a costume drama for the umpteenth time, this film tries to do something a little different, still paying homage to the original story but having some fun with tongue-in-cheek humour and modern sensibilities all the way through.
In that, the movie is wonderfully fast-paced, zipping and zapping with zany energy to and fro as it flies through David Copperfield’s upbringing and chaotic ups and downs between nobility and poverty. Furthered by energetic directing and performances, as well as editing that features the slightest hints of breaking the fourth wall, the film establishes itself right from the start as a feverishly eccentric watch.
And that’s where the real joy of watching The Personal History Of David Copperfield comes from. It’s not just another costume drama (although the costumes and sets look gorgeous), but a rapid-fire comedy of errors that will have you rolling around in your chair laughing right the way through.
Admittedly, not every joke lands perfectly, but the film is so jam-packed with laughter and energy that you’ll find yourself consistently entertained, only bolstered by those tongue-in-cheek winks and nods such as the fourth wall breaks and colour-blind casting that only add to the brilliant eccentricity of it all.
But even with so much zany energy at play, the film manages to spend time to develop its drama in a heartfelt and engaging manner. Brilliantly linking up the story’s more inspiring emotional themes with the charming nature of the comedy, The Personal History Of David Copperfield is an effortlessly lovable watch, both in its laughs as well as its soaring heart of gold.
From a genuinely wonderful lead performance by Dev Patel to standout supporting turns from Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Daisy May Cooper, Benedict Wong and Ben Whishaw, the film uses its A-list cast to fantastic effect, all brought together under the roof of delightful hilarity by director Armando Iannucci, who keeps a potentially chaotic comedy of errors running smoothly all the way through.
The one caveat of the film is that it doesn’t quite match up to Iannucci’s best works of the past simply because it lacks a more biting satire. Of course, there’s perhaps less political and social mockery to play with in a Charles Dickens adaptation compared to In The Loop and The Death Of Stalin, but it feels like this film tries to bring some in with its assessment on the class divide and the plight of poverty, albeit never quite hitting the mark.
Saying that, however, The Personal History Of David Copperfield is an utter delight. It’s wonderfully strange, complete with rapid-fire and zany energy that complements an eccentric atmosphere and a charismatic cast, only furthered by an engaging and heartfelt story that’s brought to life by hilarious comedy all the way through. And that’s why I’m giving it a 7.9 overall.