By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
From wrtiter/director Armando Iannucci, the critically acclaimed filmmaker behind In The Loop and The Death of Stalin, comes this highly lovable and delightfully entertaining adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel. Featuring a tremendously gifted and culturally diverse cast, Iannucci has crafted a Dickens adaptation that has a sharply witty comedic tone. Now to be honest, I have never actually read the novel David Copperfield, but I have read a few of his other works. I will say, though, that this movie has sparked some interest in me. Regardless of whether or not one is familiar with the source material, I truly believe this is one of those movies that is absolutely irresistible.
Dev Patel stars as the titular David Copperfield. The film follows David from birth to adulthood, as told from his perspective. David’s life definitely has its ups and downs, but his determination and courage drives him on. He endures the cruel abuse by his stepfather Mr. Murdstone ((Darren Boyd) and life as a runaway with the charming deadbeat Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi). He eventually manages to catch up with his aunt Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton) and her unusual friend Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie). During his adventures, Copperfield discovers his for telling stories and decides to pursue his dream as a writer.
Much like Greta Gerwig does with her adaptation of Little Women, Armando Iannucci breathes new life into Dickens’ novel David Copperfield. Iannucci comedic talents are used to great effect, but never overshadow or distract from the heart of the story. I imagine it was a challenge to condense a 624-page novel into a two hour movie. And overall, the filmmaker does rather well. There are a couple of arcs that come across as rushed, but these moments are not ridiculously bad. Iannucci also displays his talents as a director here. He seems to have a great chemistry with his cast which is full of some wonderful actors.
Dev Patel shines as the smart, sweet, and compassionate David Copperfield. His natural charisma works superbly for this type of winsome protagonist. The film also stars Aneurin Barnard as David’s good friend James Steerworth. Barnard brings to the character a defiant rebellious spirit, but also a caring nurturing side that encourages David to pursue happiness.
There are so many great names in this ensemble and so many hyperbolic praises I can bestow on them for their work on this movie. However, I will refrain from getting too carried away and simply mention their names. The movie features superb work by Tilda Swinton, Peter Capaldi, Morfydd Clark, Rosalind Eleazar, Benedict Wong, Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw, and several others. It truly is a joy to see such a diverse cast of talented actors in this period piece.
Which is a rarity, really, when it comes to this kind of movie. Armando Iannucci keeps the “period” in his period film, but manages to modernize things without going too overboard. It is possible that some literature purists might scoff or abhor the liberties that Iannucci takes with this Dickens adaptation, but this type of humorless person lacks the vision, the sense of humor, and obviously the will to be a little daring. And these sensibilities are the things that attract modern minds to classic stories and make them more palatable and relatable.