Movie Review – ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’

Hello everyone! 🙂

Welcome to ‘Bradley’s Basement’ blog and I’m Tim Bradley!

During these unprecedented times – please keep safe – my parents and I have recently found another opportunity to catch up with watching something that we never got to see at the cinema. We saw ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ as a download for rent on our home computer. 🙂

This movie was released at UK cinemas earlier this year in January. We never got the chance to see the movie on the big screen after we saw the trailers for it. My parents and I are well-accustomed with the story of ‘David Copperfield’ by Charles Dickens from watching the 1999 BBC TV production.

And if I’m honest, I find the 1999 BBC TV adaptation of ‘David Copperfield’ more faithful to the original book by Charles Dickens than the recent film adaptation. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’. On the contrary, I enjoyed it and I’m very happy that I saw it.

But with this latest film version of ‘David Copperfield’, there are…liberties taken with adapting the source material to the big screen. The film was directed by Armando Iannucci and it stars Dev Patel as David Copperfield. The movie does take on a more comedic edge instead of the drama edge to it.

With the 1999 BBC TV version, I’m aware, from having watched it numerous times, of how the story of ‘David Copperfield’ should work. It starts off with David as a young boy who soon ends up going to a boarding school because of his abusive stepfather before he’s made to work in a London factory. 😦

David then meets Mr. Micawber who takes him home to live with his family before he ends up moving because of his financial debts. David soon goes to live with his aunt Betsey Trotwood before he becomes enrolled at a proper school and he also befriends Agnes Wickfield at her father’s home.

After that, David meets Dora Spenlow whom he becomes besotted with and ends up marrying before she soon dies. David soon marries Agnes and somewhere in-between, David and his friends thwart the actions of the slimy Uriah Heep and the young Steerforth who was once David’s friend. 🙂

That’s not really the case with this latest film adaptation by Armando Iannucci. Oh to be sure, there are echoes of the ‘David Copperfield’ story in this film but I feel it’s loosely based upon the source material rather a faithful adaptation. Also, because it’s a comedy-drama film, it’s not done seriously.

For one thing, David doesn’t go to a boarding school at a young age as his stepfather, the cruel Mr. Murdstone, sends him to work in London straight away and it has elements of the boarding school in it. David is also still working in a factory by the time he’s grown up. He leaves the factory in a huff after he hears his mother passed away. He then goes and sees his aunt Betsey Trotwood as an adult.

Not as a child! The love story David has with Dora as well as with Agnes gets oddly handled in the film. For one thing, David doesn’t end marrying Dora and we don’t see her die in this. In fact, the film gives the impression that David changed his mind about Dora and decided to end up marrying Agnes instead as he wrote his book. I feel there’s a less dramatic effect featured in the film because of that.

The film also tries to be more divisive by casting a non-white actor to play David Copperfield as well as for some other characters. I don’t mind that as it’s an interesting take on the tale. But sometimes the logic goes out of the window with some of the casting decisions and it wouldn’t have been historically accurate at the time. Again, as this is a comedic satire, historical accuracy isn’t a big issue.

The cast do deliver enjoyable performances in the movie. As well as Dev Patel as David Copperfield, there’s also Tilda Swinton (the White Witch in ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’) as Betsey Trotwood, Hugh Laurie (Bertie Wooster in ‘Jeeves & Wooster’) as Mr. Dick and Peter Capaldi (the Twelfth Doctor in ‘Doctor Who’) as Mr. Micawber. I was pleased to see these fine actors in this unique film adaptation.

There’s also Ben Whishaw (who voices Paddington in the ‘Paddington’ movies) as Uriah Heep, Paul Whitehouse as Mr. Peggotty, Aneurin Barnard as James Steerforth, Daisy May Cooper as Peggotty, Morfydd Clark as Dora Spenlow/Clara Copperfield, Benedict Wong (Wong in the ‘MCU’) as Mr. Wickfield, Darren Boyd as Edward Murdstone, Gwendoline Christie as Jane Murdstone, Anthony Welsh as Ham Peggotty, Rosalind Eleazar as Agnes Wickfield, Aimee Kelly as Emily and Nikki Amuka-Bird as Mrs. Steerforth. Again, a very intriguing diverse cast of actor who deliver great performances!

I can’t deny that this film adaptation didn’t win me over in being a faithful adaptation of the original book by Charles Dickens. But it was very entertaining and intriguing to watch. Critics seem to rate it highly and I suppose that’s fine. It’s a fascinating comedic take on the tale and I’m glad I’ve seen it. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Bye for now!

Tim. 🙂


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