I discovered lots from Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, including the fact that even though I haven’t fully read the novel, it seems I knew the characters and the story without initial self-realisation, such is their place in our creative history. The important thing I also didn’t know this was his eighth book, it’s actually somewhat autobiographical and, oh, the full title was The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rooker, which is actually brilliant.
So whilst this is an alteration, Iannucci brings his classic stamp of uniqueness to proceedings but it’s also full of unexpected inventiveness, alongside a wonderfully diverse cast that ended up making it one of his most charming films and, with it, possibly my favourite of his features.
If you didn’t know, The Personal History of David Copperfield tells the title character tale through birth, childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Copperfield is played by the marvelous Dev Patel, who is recently becoming one of my favourite actors. He always fully inhabits a character, and once again brings this one to life on screen. Of course, Copperfield is also surrounded by all kinds of crazy characters in Victorian England, with adds on stories of kindness, poverty, wickedness and wealth – with every class of life being represented.
Initially setup as Copperfield telling us his story from the stage, much like an old-school theatre production, it’s not long at all before the backdrop literally merges into his story, as he steps off the stage and into the green-grass of the field outside his house, with the story of his birth and younger years. He takes on a ghost-like role visiting his past, echoing a Christmas Carol of course, but without the rest of the spirits. We learn that all David wants to be is a storyteller, he mimics those around him when writing up his memories and takes notes for every instant he wants to remember. I can say I’ve definitely been there as well.
That snappy rhetoric that Armanda Iannucci is famous for is here but he also brings forth a deeper story after the opening half, something I’ve seen less of from the filmmaker, and wasn’t really present in the Death of Stalin, but is stronger because of it. It feels like he is finally pushing his experiences into different genres, whilst still retaining that edge of batty lunacy that’s very much welcome and very much here.
Interestingly, I found The Personal History of David Copperfield much more of an experience than I thought it would be. By this, I mean it’s an easy watch and one where you can let the characters grab you by the hand and take you into their exciting, positive, and sometimes sordid, little worlds. I also adored the occasionally clever scene change, such as a physically giant hand reaching into their lives, or a seemingly innocuous background turning into another part of the country or story. It’s hard to explain, but the entire frame changes (as if animation) and while it is beautifully done, much more of this affect would have been excellent.
While the sheer depth of the full story may be a little skipped over, obviously it is a massive narrative, every actor gives it their moment with Dev Patel exceptionally leading the way as David Copperfield. You’ve also got the likes of Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, Paul Whitehouse, Aneurin Barnard, Daisy May Cooper, Morfydd Clark, Benedict Wong, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Welsh and Rosalind Eleazar in outstanding roles as we follow Patel’s Copperfield in his journey through his life. This is a true journey and I found it both fantastic and fascinating throughout.