You can add Armando Iannucci to my long list of well-respected creative minds. The Thick of It is my favourite show of all time, In the Loop is one of my favourite films, and The Death of Stalin is just as a remarkable comedy. While the mass majority of Iannucci fans wait until the announcement of The Thick of It Brexit Special (please God, please) we can satisfy or comedy palette with his take of a classic Charles Dickins novel. While I’m familiar to most Charles Dickins stories, The Personal History of David Copperfield remains an unexplored adventure, and the trailers never gave too much away so in a way I was out of the dark on this one, even though I had some idea of what the comedy would be like. My expectations were quickly broken as this film comedy is very different from what Iannucci is known for, but his undeniable quality in character remains remarkable.
Yeah, if you know Armando’s previous work, you’ll know that his satire works in a lot of the more profane language that makes the swearing in The Wolf of Wall Street tame. However, no such language here in this PG-rated film, which is curious for Iannucci because to some as it’s the clever usage of swearing that is the stem to most of his comedy. The progression from joke to laugher in David Copperfield is correlated with the film’s pacing. David Copperfield is a film where the pace dictates the direction of the film. Very rarely does the film have any kind of flashback to unlock new information it keeps moving forward, it drives you to lock in who these characters are because you’ll encounter a lot of them.
A lot of characters mean the need for an ensemble cast, and there is no denying that this cast is massive. There is enough detail in each performer to completely fill this review, so I’ll shorten it to the best of the best with the first, obvious choice being the titular character played by Dev Patel. Though he has popped up long since Slumdog Millionaire, it’s been a while since I’ve seen him in a film and this character is a big challenge for him which he has undertaken very professionally. The switches his character makes from everything to nothing, upper class to lower class and back again is a whirlwind to follow but worth it.
Peter Capaldi is another name as Mr. Micawber, a man outrunning creditors who play the Concertina very badly. Possibly the more likable of all the people David Copperfield meets in his life because he’s always so optimistic no matter how hard life strikes him. Audiences easily tag on to his character out of empathy because of his supportive nature to his family and Copperfield and when we revisit him, joy fills us because of that empathy.
In retrospect, I understand why David Copperfield is a beloved story of Charles Dickins because this story includes a piece of the author that wrote it, which is something Iannucci is adamant on bringing across to his adaptation. Essentially this is a story written to be about writers and how writers can come up with unforgettable characters because they exist. Every character that Copperfield encounters is widely different and fascinating in their own ways, which in itself is a sort of testimony to great characters. Anyone who’s ever attempted screenwriting can us David Copperfield as a study into engaging characters.
That’s not to say that The Personal History of David Copperfield is an epitome of great writing, I mean it is in a way, but there are other elements of the film that cause problems. For instance, I previously mentioned it is fast, but that was meant fast in a containable way, there are moments when the pacing becomes too hyperactive for some audiences to follow so we lose our sense of place and where we are at in the story. Although the lack of a stationary camera is impressive, it also has a downside where it enhances the hyperactive nature of some scenes.
There are moments in David Copperfield that take you out of the films established reality with some dangling on the thread of absurdity. Honestly, they feel like they should belong in an arthouse film. Nevertheless, the intention is there and felt, but the absurdity I felt should have been the possession of the characters alone, that’s where you can really feel it.
The Personal History of David Copperfield is the ultimate writer’s story. Not only is it an insight into writing, but also language and how it shapes our world, inspiration that is found in the beautiful ridiculousness of its characters, it even takes on calligraphy for a moment. This is a completely different approach by Armando Iannucci if his past works have anything to say, but I found it to be charming with a lot of pent up energy to expel that comes out in the bizarre.
Final Result: 7/10 – Good
Have you seen The Personal History of David Copperfield? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: The Lighthouse/A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood/Richard Jewell