Set in the 1840’s, this perennial Dickens story receives a fresh non-stuffy twist from director Armando Iannucci and introduces a refreshingly diverse cast list, a welcome change in a period drama.
“David Copperfield” (Dev Patel) is the titular character of the book, born into a respectable family. However, he swiftly falls through the strict hierarchy of 19th Century English society, as tragedy and misfortune befalls him at every turn.
Dickens of course thrives on such misery, “Dickensian” when applied to either Christmas or squalor conjures fixed images in most audiences minds and the film does not disappoint, as our hero falls as far as one can.
Along the way he is befriended by the usual colourful mixture of characters universally of a good-nature, populated by a talented cast. Including the indebted “Mr Mcawber” (Peter Capaldi) forever evading creditors, donkey hating “Betsy Trotwood” (Tilda Swinton), the muddled “Mr Dick” (Hugh Laurie) and “ever so ‘umble” legal clerk “Uriah Heep” (Ben Whishaw).
The story is book-ended by a public story reading by Copperfield himself and ebbs and flows from riches to rags, and back. The story enjoys pantomime style villains, notably “Jane Murdstone” (Gwendoline Christie) and her brother “Murdstone” (Darren Boyd), another staple of Dickens stories.
Historically considered to be a semi-autobiographical work by Dickens, who remained interested in the unequal levels of society he observed at the time, especially those less fortunate than himself at the height of his fame.
Complex stories simply told, in broad, brash strokes of unbridled innocent happiness via abject poverty and despair. Characters that may appear to modern audiences as caricatures, only because they represent the original template for such traits.
Filmed in differing styles, mixing story telling and inventive flights of fancy, which helps to open up the story to a modern audience. Directed by Iannucci with a comic flourish peppered with some well delivered one-liners, especially from Swinton and Laurie.
Patel is an engaging actor, full of enthusiasm but never dipping into caricature himself despite his ever changing wardrobe, which proves wise bearing in mind the flamboyant characters all around him.
By their very nature some actors find it hard to compete with the better known and more experienced performers, coupled with some obviously fake CGI backdrops, neither of which detract from the story.
The pace flags slightly in the third quarter but picks up again with gusto and ends with a flourish, just like a Simpson’s episode – much craziness but everything ends up just fine in the end.
As with many adaptions the screenplay takes liberties with the story to fit a reasonable running time, however most audiences will just enjoy a story bought to life in front of them, far removed from any schoolbook memories.
A fun “Dickensian” romp sketching out a remarkable life well lived, populated with flamboyant characters played by a talented cast clearly enjoying themselves.