The Personal History of David Copperfield (review) – the Dickens classic finds a new voice


Armando Iannucci’s (The Death of Stalin) love of all things Dickens is nothing new; in 2012, the fabulous BBC documentary ‘Armando’s Tale of Charles Dickens explored Dickens’ work and legacy through a contemporary lens. In many ways, The Personal History of David Copperfield feels like an extension of the explorations held in Iannucci’s 2012 documentary as he honours Dickens’ work while giving it a beautifully modern twist. Here Iannucci celebrates the humour and sublime character development of Dickens while equally finding a new voice and style that never distracts from the source material.

Iannucci and co-writer Simon Blackwell revel in Dickens’ sublime literary world while upping the tempo with fast-paced transitions between Copperfield’s childhood and adult life. Their focus is clearly on the characters, quirks, and humour of Dickens’ writing by attempting to bring a fresh perspective to a long-honoured story. In part, this works; however, it also means that the story’s darker elements feel underserved. But it is the ability of The Personal History of David Copperfield to bring on board newcomers and fans that is its greatest success. Here Armando Iannucci and Sarah Crowe’s casting choices are sublime. Led by the engaging and enigmatic Dev Patel (Lion), the cast includes Ben Whishaw as the creepy Uriah Heep, Tilda Swinton as the eccentric donkey-bothering Aunt Betsey, Morfydd Clark as the dizzy Dora and Hugh Laurie as the charming, sweet and innocent Mr Dick.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is not the first film to deconstruct and reconstruct Dickens for a new audience; A Muppet Christmas Carol and Lionel Bart’s Oliver took a similar route. Just like its predecessors, Iannucci’s dreamlike vision honours the genius of Charles Dickens while shining a bright light on the characters he created. The result is a vivid, colourful and bold new world for Copperfield that would have earnt Dickens’ wholehearted approval.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Director:  Armando Iannucci

Cast:  Dev PatelHugh LaurieTilda Swinton, Aneurin Barnard, Peter Capaldi, Gwendoline Christie, Morfydd Clark, Daisy May Cooper, Hugh Laurie, Paul Whitehouse, Ben Whishaw, Benedict Wong, Jairaj Varsani, Rosalind Eleazar


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