The Personal History of David Copperfield


You’ll laugh and say “What the Dickens” at the same time.

Armando Iannucci’s latest spoof, “The Personal History of David Copperfield” is a comedy with uneven elements that either work or don’t.

At the Boulder International Film Festival, where I saw it, I was told he was colorblind one the casting, as he began with guiding Dev Patel as David Copperfield, and basically grabbed a variety of actors, regardless of their race. It’s very difficult for an African-American lady to have a white son, and I’ve seen an Asian character have an African-American daughter in the movie; and yet, it’s entertaining to see how diverse the movie is. So think of it like “Hamilton” with its colorblind casting.

And the other thing is how David is the only character to grow old, while everyone else stayed the same age. That left me and my cousins confused with that notion, and one of them was hoping it was a dream like the conclusion of “Parasite.” So, that’s basically the only spiteful thing about the movie.

This is a befuddled and yet outrageously funny comedy that pokes fun at the Charles Dickens character, as he goes through life with friends and enemies, and finds new opportunity within. It often gets confusing in the narrative, but you’re still able to study the main protagonist and the other characters.

  • His loving mother marries a sadistic bottling factory owner Edward Murdstone (Darren Boyd) who, along with his sister (Gwendoline Christie), abuse the family.
  • He also meets a man named Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie), who’s so obsessed with King Charles I, that he believes flying a kite he makes will push those images away.
  • There’s also a poor family, whose patriarch Wilkins Micawber (Peter Capaldi) is optimistic about getting them by.
  • He also has his eyes set on two women: Dora Spenlow (Morfydd Clark), who talks for her dog, and Agnes Wickfield (Rosalind Eleazar), the daughter of the alcoholic accountant Mr. Wickfield (Benedict Wong).
  • Makes a friend out of James Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard), who later in the movie steals the beautiful and engaged Emily (Aimee Kelly) from her fiancee Ham (Anthony Welsh).
  • Another antagonist would be the obedient and dishonest Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw), who eventually becomes Mr. Wickfield’s law clerk.
  • And his only remaining relative is his wealthy aunt Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton), who starts off being appalled that he was born a boy and not a girl, enforces a “No Donkeys” policy on her estate, and loses her wealth under embezzlement.

I think we can agree, Copperfield has a lot going on in his life, and yet, none of them aged at all. Either they drank from a fountain of youth or have the ageless gifts of Peter Pan and Mary Poppins. It’s hard for us to tell at this point, but I have to let this go, and single out the other aspects of the movie.

Patel is charming in the ways he brings out the Charles Dickinson character with his sly wit, dialogue, and consistency. Laurie and Capaldi also deliver the comical goods with their characters’ respective situations, and how the director guides them. Boyd has a threatening, yet satisfying minor role as Copperfield’s mean step-father. Clark and Eleazer both have their respective charms as his loves. And Swinton, Wong, and Whishaw all deliver solid supporting work.

It’s fun seeing all the levity and drama morph every step of the way. In fact, coming on the heels of “In the Loop” and “The Death of Stalin,” I think we can agree that Armando Iannucci has a Monty Python meets “Saturday Night Live” vibe, and “The Personal History of David Copperfield” clinches it.


In Select Theaters This Friday

Categories: comedy, Drama

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