The Personal History of David Copperfield

personal_history_of_david_copperfield_ver9STARS3.5Frenzied, stylized version of David Copperfield is such a hyperactive exercise that you’d swear it was based on a comic book and not the Charles Dickens’ book published in 1850.  The production is nothing if not creative — a vibrant display of manic drama fashioned around a memorable performance by Dev Patel at the center of the narrative.

Dev Patel is a charismatic choice to play the naive and trusting protagonist.  The British-Indian actor is perhaps not the first actor one would select to play this historical character.  Yet he personifies Copperfield’s spirit with singular joyous energy.  His gawky frame and wide-eyed expressions engage the viewer.  We are captivated by this man as we enthusiastically follow him on his journey.  The ensemble is — in fact– populated by a few notable actors in roles that favor colorblind casting choices.  Where this felt like a stunt in 2018’s Mary Queen of Scots, here the actors mostly relish their parts with a comedic zeal that invigorates the proceedings.

Charles Dickens’ autobiographical tale of the titular character’s maturation to adulthood was supposedly his personal favorite.  The chronicle details Victorian England and the effects that wealth and class have on various individuals.  Director Armando Iannucci (The Death of Stalin) and co-screenwriter Simon Blackwell present a rather unconventional reworking.  The mood is frenetic and fast-paced.  That’s particularly good news for moviegoers with short attention spans.  However, it’s less encouraging for those period piece fans who prefer tradition and nuance.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is not your father’s stuffy adaptation.  The saga has a loose, disjointed feel.  The hardships and good fortunes jammed together like a herky-jerky roller coaster of ups and downs throughout.  The sprawling novel has been serialized for TV many times over the years.  There’s also George Cukor’s highly respected 1935 version for MGM. The episodic nature of the numerous events could easily be seen as chaotic and random.  Nevertheless it alls serves in the detail of the gradual ascent of a young man in society.  It’s fitfully charming as a whole.  Take my positive appraisal with a  grain of salt.  I confess I have never read the book, nor seen any production of the work.  I do not worship the source.  However, I know what’s entertaining and this breezy movie certainly is that.


One Response to “The Personal History of David Copperfield”

  1. I like Dev Patel and Tilda Swinton so I was excited about this. I liked the quirkiness and confusion about the story. Found myself a little lost at times, but that didn’t bother me. I really enjoyed it. 3 1/2 stars


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