Film Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield

It is undeniable that Charles Dickens will forever be one of the finest writers there has ever been, his stories are timeless and have been consistently showcased in a variety of formats over the years. Today, I’m looking at one of the latest iterations of his classic David Copperfield. 2019’s The Personal History of David Copperfield went under the radar a bit, mainly thanks to the impact Covid-19 had on cinema, however I finally got a chance to watch it the other day, and I was not disappointed.

For those unfamiliar with the tale of David Copperfield, in a nutshell, it’s about a journey of self-discovery and growth. As a young man born into wealth is suddenly thrust in to a world he is not used to and must learn to adapt and overcome the challenges he is faced with. It’s notable for being one of Dickens’ more mature works, tackling some dark themes and being rather bleak. Perhaps you’re thinking that this would mean The Personal History of David Copperfield wouldn’t be an easy watch, but this adaptation shines by taking the core elements of the original story but turning it in to something a bit more joyous and fun, full of hope and charm.

Director Armando Iannucci understands the assignment here and injects an infectious amount of energy in to a classic tale to make it appealing to modern audiences, spearheaded by the fantastic Dev Patel who plays the titular Copperfield, and supported by an all-star cast including the likes of Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw, Benedict Wong and Peter Capaldi (just to name a few!). Every single character feels relevant and necessary to the progression of the story and nothing feels forced, and Iannucci ensures that they all have their own unique personalities and quirks, some you’re supposed to dislike, but most of them bring a lighthearted warmth to the film, adding metaphorical colour to what is often regarded as a bleak, grey story…

This was a refreshing change, considering we seem to live in an era of cinema that seems to thrive off of misery, it would have been easy for this to be a straight adaptation, but I’m so glad that all involved decided that this was not the way to go, there are notable changes from the original novel but the changes that have been made make sense and make the film more feel-good, which will inevitably make it more appealing to modern audiences and may perhaps entice the younger generation of today to absorb more of Dickens work, keeping him alive in the literary sense for generations to come.

This is a film that is suitable for all audiences with an array of very fun, likeable characters against a beautifully vibrant Victorian backdrop, sprinkle in a few quirky stylistic choices from the director and what you’re left with is an excellent piece of filmmaking that deserved to be seen by a lot more people.

Sometimes we all need a film that is just going to make you feel warm inside and put a smile on your face, given the subject matter of the original novel, I was shocked I was getting that fix from an adaptation of David Copperfield, but alas, I found myself smiling and happy throughout and I welcome the changes they made. It’s likely a lot of audiences watching this won’t know the original story anyway, so what’s the harm in making it a bit more happy? There are plenty of straight adaptations out there to get your fix if you’re after that, after nearly 200 years, I think it was time for a fresh unique take, and this film succeeds in providing one.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one, I think you will be too, so watch it when you get the chance. I caught it on Film 4 and it will likely be showing on there again at some point, so keep an eye out!

I give The Personal History of David Copperfield a 8.5/10.


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