Armando Iannucci’s adaptation of Dicken’s The Personal History of David Copperfield is outstanding proof that comedy directors just might be the best choices for epic period dramas.
The Director; tasked with half a thousand pages of source material, a vast ensemble of characters, and multiple sets must all the while cover the life of the film’s respective protagonist throughout massively fluctuating socioeconomic circumstances.
Iannucci brings a unique eccentricity to his adaptation that would make him the envy of any grand English drama director.
Essentially, he brings to the film something that just works. It can be summed up in two ways: the first is a remarkable kinetic energy and boldness. Iannucci and Simon Blackwell’s screenplay has a sharp quick-wittedness that allows the film to move breezily through big events in the titular character’s life, especially when dealing with his upbringing – created without the feeling that it is rushed.
Zach Nicholson’s cinematography emboldens a varied colour palette from the lush greens of the countryside to the painful blacks and greys of impoverished London. The film goes beyond the dense dramatics of your typical period film to be, not just unique, but also straight up fun.
The second thing is the incredible ensemble cast. From top notch big stars including Peter Capaldi, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Gwendolyn Christie, and Benedict Wong, among many others, all do stellar jobs of bringing a variety of larger than life characters to life. But, it’s Dev Patel as the titular Copperfield who really gets to shine. Sitting centre stage to such an ocean of talent, Patel portrays David with an empathetic curiosity of the world around him, whilst also constantly having to deal with wanting to come into his own in the world around him.
His characterisation of David forms a terrifically written and performed narrative train for such a consistently fluctuating narrative through all the various circumstances. Repeatedly falling in and out of abject 17th century poverty, resulting in a sense of identity that becomes so interchangeable he’s referred to by different names by different people. Patel’s portrayal manages to successfully find the consistent humanity within a difficult ever-changing character and constantly keeps you engaged.
As someone who isn’t particularly big on heritage films, I really enjoyed this new take on Dickens’ classic. The script and direction bring a much needed energy and quick pace to a rather dense story, while the all-star cast breathe an extra layer of life and fun into every scene.