the personal history of david copperfield (2020 the movie)

Originally this much loved, classic Charles Dickens novel set in Victorian England of 1840 was entitled The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery.

Unlike the depressingly harsh storyline of his other novels such as Oliver Twist, this tale is about as close as Dickens gets to an uplifting story.

Being the first of the only two novels, Dickens wrote in the first person it has long been thought to be (mostly) autobiographical with many events mirroring those in the author’s colourful life.

The nineteenth century was a tough time in history, with ‘heaps’ of unsavoury types who are both willing and able to exploit the vulnerable.

Amongst all this depressing poverty, Copperfield stands out as a good-natured, likable chap who despite his less than prestigious standing in life manages to get on well with most of the characters he encounters.  

In typical Dickens style, in the midst of the rat-infested squaller, the poor bravely suffer their lot in life while openly displaying gentle kindness, selfless charity and strength of Christian moral character.

As one would expect, there is also a cruel, child beating taskmaster as well a despicably sleazy, scheming villain who both work tirelessly to break David’s spirit. Triumphantly as expected  they destined to be taught a lesson by story’s end

This latest film interpretation begins with our middle-aged protagonist performing a reading of his successful novel from the stage of a ‘full house’ concert hall. Detailing the events of his birth, it is here that his adventures begin.

If not from the opening scene, then certainly by those that follow it becomes evident that this is a story that will not be presented in the expected conventional way.

 The costumes are beautiful; locations are wonderful, and portions of the dialogue are all true to the original story in a way that one might imagine Dickens intended.

When it comes to larger than life characters, it is the choice of actors that is at first a little bewildering, to say the least, As the story progresses through David’s life, it becomes apparent that this production is boldly different.

For those who are not familiar with the novel, it is set in the overwhelmingly white environment of Victorian England and is traditionally presented with a full cast of Anglo-Saxon actors.

David Copperfield is played by Dav Patel, who is a British actor of Indian heritage.  The remaining characters being the kindly Aunt Betsey (Tilda Swinton), the totally likeable rogue Wilkins Micawber (Peter Capaldi), the harmless kite flying Mr Dick (Hugh Laurie), utterly sinister Uriah Heep ( Ben Whishaw), the disappointingly selfish James Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard), the continually intoxicated Mr Wickfield (Benedict Wrong), and the forever loyal Agnes Wickfield ( Rosalind Eleazar) are the unexpected yet delightful ensemble, to say the least

According to writer-director Armando Lannucci, his decision to take a colour-blind approach to the characters came to him while casting the movie.

“I wanted to celebrate what Britain actually is”, says Lannucci “and it’s much more of a carefree, enjoyable, humorous kind of zesty, energetic place.”

According to  Patel “I totally missed this literary classic growing up. It didn’t appeal to me, and what Armando has done with the casting and the world, he has given it buoyancy and accessibility to kids like myself. It really is representative of a modern Britain – the one that I grew up in.”

Along with the intriguing ensemble of actors who manage to breath fresh life into these larger-than-life characters, the production is nothing short of enchanting.

If you are already familiar with the story, then I suggest you brace yourself for a slight cultural shock, but once you accept this innovative interpretation for what it is I’m confident you will be captivated by the magic of the original David Copperfield.

Photo Concept&Design by Beata Gombas (c) 2020

If you would like to view the movie trailer