Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Personal History of David Copperfield
Directed by Armando Iannucci
Released August 28, 2020

There are many novels that are widely read and then adapted for the screen. It’s rare to find just one film or television version of an extremely popular book, and there may be multiple opinions on which is considered definitive or most well-regarded. A slightly new approach is required to generate interest in a new iteration, tackling the story from a different angle or changing characters to more accurately reflect either the time in which they were supposed to live or a transformed era in which the audience will watch them. Such updates are likeliest to please those looking for a fresh perspective, and winning over fans of the classic is more difficult.

David Copperfield (Ranveer Jaiswal, and later Dev Patel) is raised by his mother Clara (Morfydd Clark) after the death of his father and finds himself sent away to work in a factory when his discipline-oriented stepfather (Darren Boyd) and his cruel aunt (Gwendoline Christie) enter his life. In the course of his childhood, he lives in an upside-down boat by the water with his housekeeper Peggotty (Daisy May Cooper), the kindly creditor-dodging Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi), and his aunt Betsey (Tilda Swinton) and her eccentric cousin Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie). When he is finally on his own and facing a successful future that includes two love interests (Clark and Rosalind Eleazar), David reflects back on the people and experiences that have gotten him to a place to be able to write it all down in a book.

This reviewer doesn’t have vivid recollections of reading Charles Dickens’ 1850 novel David Copperfield, but imagines it must have happened at some point. What is apparent going into this film is that those expecting typical fare from director Armando Iannucci and writer Simon Blackwell, who have previously collaborated on “In the Loop” and “Veep,” among other projects, will be sorely disappointed. Unlike “The Death of Stalin,” Iannucci’s previous film, this film is not an outright parody or one that utilizes any of his regular players – including Capaldi, Laurie, and actress Nikki Amuka-Bird, to recite off litanies of foul language. Instead, it’s best compared to Todd Haynes and “Wonderstruck,” a clear departure from the type of cinema he’s best known for that is mostly family-friendly and focuses effectively on the fantastical.

This film is colorful and full of imagination, frequently transitioning between scenes in a way that literally jumps off the screen and merges memory with what’s actually happening in the moment. There isn’t much consistency in the devices and styles used, but there are enough standout supporting performances, particularly from Laurie and Swinton, to keep audiences engaged. The set decoration and costumes are its best assets, presenting a story that’s often more visually enthralling than it is thematically. This may just be the exception to the rule – a “modern take” that will probably appeal more to fans of the classic than viewers unfamiliar with it.


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