The Personal History of David Copperfield

David Copperfield (Dev Patel) is sent out to make his own way in the world after his mother (Morfydd Clark) marries Mr Murdstone (Darren Boyd). His epic journey takes him from the factories on London, the beaches of Yarmouth and to his wealthy aunt Betsy (Tilda Swinton).

After the sharp and funny swearathon of The Death of Stalin, a Charles Dickens adaptation might seem an odd choice for director Armando Ianucci. However, once you start to get below the surface of The Personal History of David Copperfield it all starts to make sense. While the film is a PG and contains none of the explosive language that we’re used to from Ianucci, it still remains razor sharp.

The film exudes a sense of decent optimism and that’s in large part down to the superb performance of Dev Patel. He injects Copperfield with a humble dignity and an unerring desire to help people. There are hints of entitled ambition around the edges but at heart he is a good person and a charming character to spend time with.

It would be unfair to lay the success of the film entirely at Patel’s feet though as this is an ensemble effort in every sense of the word. There are memorable characters dotted throughout Copperfield’s life and they’re cast to perfection based on their suitability rather than their ethnicity. The excellent supporting characters are almost too notable Hugh Laurie’s Mr Dick who is delightfully eccentric balancing wonder and sorrow in equal parts. Ben Whishaw is almost entirely unrecognisable as the obsequious and conniving Uriah Heep. I could almost smell the alcohol dripping from Mr Wickfield (Benedict Wong) as he stumbles across the screen in one of the best onscreen drunnks since James Stewart in Harvey.

The Personal History of David Coppefield is certainly a departure for Armando Ianucci. It’s far less caustic and cutting than his previous work and instead offers a tone of optimism for the future. While this is certainly a period piece it has an unsurprisingly modern edge to it, and offers a mirror to society that is achingly still relevant today.

I’ve already seen The Personal History of David Copperfield twice and I’m thinking of slotting in a third time if I get the chance. It’s a wonderful film that felt like a clear sea breeze cutting through the stale everyday air. While there are moments of tragedy the film focuses on the light, on the optimism and the good in people. It’s a film that I could watch over and over again and always find something new to enjoy, whether it’s Peter Capaldi’s terrible squeezebox or Tilda Swinton’s distaste for donkeys.

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