Photo | “The Personal History of David Copperfield” – Film 4
Armando Iannucci’s “The Personal History of David Copperfield” is a dizzyingly eccentric delight, one that manages to be entirely true to the original yet thrillingly fresh. Dev Patel is incandescent as Copperfield, while the color-blinded supporting cast is packed with perfection. Gorgeous, bizarre and hilarious, this idiosyncratic adaptation would not suffice if you were trying to watch it for English class so you could take a test on the book, but it is a vivid version that may even be what Charles Dickens would have made himself.
Dickens was a deeply theatrical creator who performed many of his written works, including this one, himself, on stage. So right off the bat, as Patel’s Copperfield stands on a stage to read about himself, this version is squarely within that Dickensian tradition. As the film follows the plot from Copperfield’s birth through his boyhood as he grows up — or to use the words of Holden Caulfield, “all that David Copperfield crap” — adult Copperfield observes and narrates his life, making notes on scraps of paper for his autobiographical novel.
The tone, the emphasis, is sometimes frantic or manic, and it could be alienating for some viewers who enjoy a stately straightforward adaptation (I like those, too). There are times when this film feels almost Terry Gilliam-level weird in terms of the narrative, which rushes around in clipped fashion, reminiscent of the slips of paper onto which Copperfield jots down his notes. We are shown the impression that makes up Copperfield’s life, and what vividly rendered impressions they are.
The viewer will never forget Copperfield’s visit to the seaside home of his beloved caregiver, Peggotty (Daisy May Cooper), a magical house made from an upside-down boat. And the home of his profoundly eccentric aunt, Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton), that she shares with her sweetly deranged cousin, Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie) would not feel out of place in Wonderland. The production design and costumes are sumptuous and magnificent.
Iannucci’s HBO series “Veep” is some of the sharpest written, most profane storytelling you will ever see, peopled by irredeemably cruel characters and few, if any, heroes. However, whimsy and warmth are on full display in “The Personal History of David Copperfield.” And while Iannucci’s is a unique and original view of the tale, it’s a bit of a relief he went easy on these dear characters and restrained himself from the four-letter acrobatics at which he so brilliantly excels. The Iannucci edge is there, but so is Dickens’s heart.
“The Personal History of David Copperfield” is a peculiar creature in the best possible way, and I cannot wait to experience it again now that I have a feel for its strange rhythms; I can appreciate its textures and depths. Like the many vibrant brocades and wallpapers in every corner and cranny, the film has as many details as notes that are scrawled down by Copperfield, assembled into an exceptional narrative that forms a truly distinct impression.
“The Personal History of David Copperfield” is available to rent.
New This Week:
“The Marksman”: Hardened Arizona rancher Jim Hanson (Liam Neeson) simply wants to be left alone as he fends off eviction notices and tries to make a living on an isolated stretch of borderland. But everything changes when the ex-Marine sharpshooter witnesses an 11-year-old migrant and his mother fleeing from drug cartel assassins. All listed multiplex theaters.
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