Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Personal History of David Copperfield (2020)

Director: Armando Iannucci

Writers: Simon Blackwell and Armando Iannucci

Starring: Dev Patel, Aneurin Barnard, Peter Capaldi, Morfydd Clark, Daisy May Cooper, Rosalind Eleazar, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw, and Paul Whitehouse

Plot: David Copperfield tells the story of his life from birth to now.

Review: Do you ever watch a movie not realizing that you’re a pretty big fan of the director, but having a really good time? And, then, you look it up later and you’re like “Oh, duh. I love this guys work.” That’s pretty much my experience with The Personal History of David Copperfield. The trailer for this looked really good, so I was excited know anything, really, about it. As it turns out, I really, really like this director and would’ve known exactly what to expect had I done some research. The director is one Mr. Armando Iannucci. That might not be a household name, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen some of his work. He’s the one behind such wonderful, quirky, awkward comedies as In the Loop, Veep, Alan Partridge, and The Death of Stalin. So, knowing that, you pretty much know exactly what to expect. It’s going to be quirky. There’s going to be fun characters. And, it’s going to be really, really fun. Honestly, if you go by that mindset, The Personal History of David Copperfield definitely does not disappoint.

Honestly, as I was trying to catch up to the tone of David Copperfield, I was also trying to figure out what it’s purpose is. I have not read the book. I have not seen any other adaptations. So, this was my first foray into the Dickens’ novel. And, I was definitely enjoying myself. I thought the performances were great. The writing was clever. And, the characters were all super interesting. However, I didn’t really see the plot going anywhere special. Then, it hit me. This isn’t about the plot. This is about those characters and how they shaped David Copperfield’s life. It’s a love letter to the quirky and the weird. I had a much greater appreciation for everything from that point on. So, I guess you should go into this movie with the right mindset. It’s about quirky, strange characters and that’s exactly the point. I mean… I didn’t go in like that and still enjoyed it, but I feel like it’s still a helpful tip to give.

And it’s really no wonder I enjoyed Copperfield. Bringing Dickens’ characters to life, we have the most extraordinary cast. Seriously, there’s so many brilliant, hilarious actors in this movie. I kept mental notes throughout the movie on who I was going to mention, but I got overwhelmed. Everyone is so freaking good in this. It’s probably the theater going experience that had me laughing the hardest. It’s such a stacked cast and they’re all playing memorable, unique characters. If I had to pick, I guess I’d say that Hugh Laurie was my favorite though. He plays a guy who thinks he inherited the mind of a long dead British king and it’s very entertaining. I also very much enjoyed the choice to make this movie a tad colorblind. They went with whoever was best fitted for the role instead of making sure everything was historically accurate. This gave Dev Patel and others the chance to tackle some fantastic parts when they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Plus, it’s great to see Dev in a different type of role. But, yeah, the whole cast was terrific. I would mention more, but I’m afraid I’d be here all day.

Lastly, I was super impressed by the stylistic choices made by Iannucci. He put it together almost as if it were a play, where we’d simultaneously see the action taking place and Copperfield over to the side narrating it. That and a couple of really unique, cool perspective shots made for a really entertaining viewing experience. Plus, of course, it had all of the terrific costumes and set design and everything else you’re looking for in adaptations of classic literature.

The only thing I’d say holds The Personal History of David Copperfield back a bit is the plot. Like I said earlier, it’s more of a character study. So, at the end, you don’t really feel like you’ve been on that grand or, even, that important of a journey. That’s probably more on the source material though. Still, the movie is fun enough that I can easily get past that. (I just wanted to explain why my score might be a tad lower than expected.)

So, really, I have nothing bad to say about The Personal History of David Copperfield. It’s a very entertaining, well made movie with a killer cast. I kind of wish this were a theater company, because I’d love to see all of these people work together again. In fact, just have them adapt the whole classics section of the bookstore into movies. I’d be there for all of them.

TL;DR: Every single actor brings their A-game to this well-directed, quirky take on Dickens in The Personal History of David Copperfield.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

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