Movie #367 2020: The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

As we come to the end of the dreaded and not-so-fondly remembered 2020, it’s really nice to see a movie that is just nice. It’s polite. It’s funny. And it has one of the best cast lists in recent memory.

The Personal History of David Copperfield comes from the mind of acclaimed director and writer Armando Iannucci, who is known chiefly for his TV shows The Thick of It and Veep, but also for movies such as The Death of Stalin and In the Loop. Although tonally this is similar, it’s certainly very different to any of Iannucci’s other works, mainly because it doesn’t focus on political satire. Based on the original book by Charles Dickens, this is more of a look at the life of the protagonist, who is forced to move away and work in a factory when he is banished to London as a small boy. We follow his life from birth to adulthood, laughing and sobbing along the way.

Did we need yet another adaptation of an old book? Not in the slightest. We already have Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility after all. But that doesn’t mean we can’t jolly well enjoy it.

This movie is basically a who’s who of current British comedians. Not since Harry Potter has there been such a widespread ensemble of this type, and it’s brilliant. Each of them is blessed with the talent of comedic timing, and Daisy May Cooper is particularly effortless in this, providing the most laughs of all. This is a great cast all round, and proof you can cast non-white actors in so-called “white” roles and it takes nothing away from the original story. If anything, all period dramas should utilise such a diverse range of actors, and this living testimony of that.

Iannucci brings something modern to this story, making it all the more bearable to a 2020 audience. The costuming is even better than it needs to be (which is no surprise considering its costume designers), and the sets and locations used are perfect. Extremely vibrant and well-made, there’s no doubt about that.

Sadly, the script isn’t always as sharp as we’ve become accustomed to from this director. I appreciate that there’s a lot of story to cover, but one can’t help but think something could have been edited out here. It’s way too long to maintain interest for the full two hours, but there’s a lot of charm and a smattering of humour here and there to help you along. Just bear in mind that zoning out mid-way through is a given.

Overall, David Copperfield is a movie that begins sharp-witted and interesting, but ultimately and sadly dips in the middle until the conclusion. Again, it is well made, but succumbs to dullness when all is said and done.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.

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