BFI London Film Festival: The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Personal History of David Copperfield
The Personal History of David Copperfield
Directed by Armando Iannucci
Starring Dev Patel, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Laurie, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Peter Capaldi, Rosalind Eleazar and Tilda Swinton
Screening at LFF October 2nd, 3rd and 5th 2019

by Alex Plant

If you were expecting Veep and The Thick Of It creator Armando Ianucci’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “favoutire child” to be sweary and subversive, you’ll be disappointed. Well, disappointed is probably the wrong word, because The Personal History of David Copperfield is an absolute delight and it does indeed bear the hallmarks of an Ianucci project, just perhaps not in the ways you’d expect.

The film, like the book, chronicles the life of the titular Copperfield (Patel) as he flits his way back and forth between rags and riches, featuring comedy, tragedy and some of the most gorgeous waistcoat and trouser combos ever seen on the silver screen. The costume design is sumptuous, the sets are like paintings come to life and the movie feels authentically Dickensian. What Ianucci contributes is the sort of pacey witty dialogue he’s known for, along with a strong sense of kineticism from his choice of camera placement and some very inventive transitions. From the opening scenes of David’s entry into this world, there is a sense of propulsion that keeps this film feeling fresh and breezy throughout.

Ianucci has said that Patel was his only choice for Copperfield and you can see why. The role suits both his comedic and dramatic sensibilities and he’s incredibly likable as he bounces off the supporting cast. And what a supporting cast it is, featuring some of Dickens’ most memorable characters. Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw, Peter Capaldi (who was surely made for Dickens), Benedict Wong and Gwendoline Christie are all clearly having a blast, particularly Whishaw, who manages to balance pathos and sliminess perfectly as Uriah Heep.

People are bound to say Ianucci has gone soft, but don’t listen to them. The Personal History of David Copperfield is the work of a confident filmmaker at the top of his game. It melds the best parts of Ianucci and Dickens into a wholesome family adventure.


Leave a Reply