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the personal history of david copperfield


DIRECTOR: Armando Iannucci (the death of stalin, in the loop)
STARRING: dev patel, tilda swinton, hugh laurie and peter capaldi 


REVIEWER: lyall carter

A modern take on Charles Dickens's classic tale of a young orphan who is able to triumph over many obstacles.

In late January on a trip to London the one film that seemed to be everywhere was The Personal History of David Copperfield. Posters advertising the film adorned the walls of Tube stations and articles and reviews praising the film filled newspapers and magazines. But then came Covid.

The release date was pushed back here in NZ and the anticipation for the film that was bubbling away has seemed to have quietened. But people should rush to their nearest cinema to witness this masterpiece which is not only a wondrous film but it also speaks more to the reality of our world today than it did in late January. 


Based on Charles Dickens semi autobiographical work, The Personal History of David Copperfield follows the life of David Copperfield from birth to infancy, from adolescence to adulthood, as the good-hearted Copperfield is surrounded by kindness, wickedness, poverty and wealth, as he meets an array of remarkable characters in Victorian England. As David sets out to be a writer, in his quest for family, friendship, romance and status, the story of his life is the most seductive tale of all.

Director Armando Iannucci’s great comedically dramatic sensibilities that we witnessed in his writing of Alan Partridge and The Thick of It and in his directorial pursuits in The Death of Stalin and In the Loop not only make him perfect for the comedic drama of Dickens and Copperfield, but also helps to produce one of the best adaptations of a period piece in recent memory. 


The Personal History of David Copperfield feels as much of its period as it feels modern. The personal and innovative flourishes that Iannucci brings in story structure, dialogue, comedy, production design and even the casting makes this story feel oh so fresh.

And from the opening frame to the closing credits, The Personal History of David Copperfield is a sumptuous delight, filled with laugh out loud comedy and the most arresting of tragedies. It encapsulates the full human experience of joy and sorrow, of success and failure which is what the work of Dickens does so well but Iannucci masterfully manages to sweep it off the page and onto the silver screen.

And you couldn’t get a more perfect tale than Copperfield’s for the times we are in. When so many people have been left impacted financially, relationally and emotionally by Covid, we find in Copperfield’s journey not only an ally but also a reason for hope. That like Mr. Micawber we too can optimistically believe that "something will turn up."

The Personal History of David Copperfield is without a doubt the best ensemble cast I’ve seen in a long time. Led wonderfully by Dev Patel, this film is packed to the hilt with some of Britain's finest actors from stage and screen who all give outstanding performances. But it's Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of Mr. Dick that really shines with Laurie beautifully encapsulating the genius and struggle that Mr. Dick endures in a wonderfully tender performance. 


The Personal History of David Copperfield is a masterfully sumptuous adaptation of Dickens classic work with wondrous dialogue, a cracking tale and a superb ensemble cast led by Dev Patel making it one of 2020’s best films.


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