Film Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield

Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield is a love letter to storytelling. The film is endearing and entertaining. 

David Copperfield tells the story of his life, from his birth to adulthood. Along the way, he meets a cast of interesting characters, as he charts his highs and his lows…

Directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci with Simon Blackwell, The Personal History of David Copperfield is very much an ode to Charles Dickens and his wonderful storytelling. Iannucci’s affection for the author is well publicised. With this film, the director pays homage to Dickens in a way that is sincere and enjoyable. 

Condensing a lengthy tome into just under two hours is quite the undertaking. Yet Iannucci is assured in tackling the adaptation, focusing on the key moments in David’s timeline. The film is bursting with memorable characters, and moves at a good pace. The device of David narrating and sometimes writing the story works well. The film balances brisk storytelling with giving the various characters enough time to shine.

The Personal History of David Copperfield blends humour with adventure in a way that feels completely natural. Iannucci highlights the humour in Dickens’ work; there is plenty to amuse in the film. The film shifts tone with ease, offering heartfelt moments amongst the laughs.

The use of colourblind casting is definitely a plus, allowing the very best actors for the roles regardless of race. Dev Patel makes a great protagonist; he is convincing and sympathetic in his performance. There is a great cast present, with memorable turns from Tilda Swinton, Huh Laurie, and Ben Whishaw.

With The Personal History of David Copperfield, Armando Iannucci does his literary hero justice. A warm, amusing, and enjoyable adaptation. 

The Personal History of David Copperfield is opening the BFI London Film Festival on 2nd October 2019.

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