The moment The Personal History of David Copperfield gets underway, the audience knows it is in for a frenetic, unique whirlwind adaptation of one of Charles Dickens’ most beloved novels. From the imagination of Oscar nominee Armando Iannucci, comes this delightfully charming tale starring Dev Patel and featuring hilarity with Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie and Ben Wishaw.
Born six months after the death of his father, Copperfield (Patel) is lucky to be raised by a loving mother. But, when Mum weds a wolf in sheep’s clothing in the form of Edward Murdstone, David is shipped off to a capsized boat of full of the family housekeepers relatives. It is these unusual housing arrangements that prove to be only the first of numerous temporary abodes, including an oppressive boarding school and the home of his eccentric aunt Betsey Trotwood (Swinton). Wherever David goes, whether living in poverty or comfort, he writes pithy impressions of all those he encounters — impressions that will one day constitute his autobiography.
Tilda Swinton is pure comedy, which is a refreshing character twist from her usually angst driven dramatic roles and is utterly entertaining. Her presence is onlyenhanced by the real MVP of this Charles Dickens classic – Hugh Laurie (Mr. Dick). Another actor known mostly for dramatic turns, Laurie proves that his comedic timing needs an even larger audience. Ben Wishaw’s (Uriah Heep) characterization of the hired help longing to become one of the elite is brilliant. His evolution of a needy, self-deprecating butler to a scum sucking accountant is the stuff villains are made of. Yet, it is Dev Patel (David Copperfield) who emerges victorious in the title role. Patel is taking stereotypes and shattering them within an inch of their life simply taking on roles where he is human regardless of the color of his skin. I would be remiss without mentioning these amazing supporting actors, for it is along with their contribution that this all goes off without a hitch – Benedict Wong (Mr. Wickfield), Rosalind Eleazar (Agnes), Peter Cabaldi (Mr. Wicawber), Nicki Asuka-Bird (Mrs. Steerforth) and Daisy May Cooper (Mrs Peggotty).
Kudos to Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell for updating a classic with a multi-cultual cast and adding such genius quitps in the screenwriting “pot calling the kettle black” among many that literally had me laughing out loud. Produced by Fox Searchlight, fans of Charles Dickens will be more than satisfied with The Personal History of David Copperfield and those going in unfamiliar will be pleasantly surprised and entertained.