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Dickens' 'David Copperfield' Comes To Vivid Life In New Film

Hugh Laurie and Dev Patel star in Armando Iannucci's adaptation of Charles Dickens' "The Personal History of David Copperfield."
Fox Searchlight
Hugh Laurie and Dev Patel star in Armando Iannucci's adaptation of Charles Dickens' "The Personal History of David Copperfield."

Armando Iannucci reimagines Dickens' London

Charles Dickens’ “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” published in 1850, has a lively new film adaptation currently playing in theaters.

Armando Iannucci is best known for his razor sharp satires like the films "In the Loop" and "Death of Stalin," and the TV shows "Thick of It" and "Veep." But with "The Personal History of David Copperfield" he tries his hand at adapting Charles Dickens and reveals a flair for a much warmer and endearing storytelling style.

Dickens’ ‘David Copperfield’ Comes To Vivid Life In New Film
Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

David Copperfield (played by Dev Patel as an adult), is a young man who experiences poverty and tragedy as a child, escapes through his imagination, makes some bad choices but ultimately proves to be a good man. His life is filled with the kinds of eccentric characters that we expect from Dickens as well as the kind of extremes in terms of failure and success, wealth and poverty, good and bad people.

Iannucci keeps the film set in the mid-1800s but he gives the world a modern spin with his color blind casting that fills Dickens' London with a racially diverse group. What's refreshing is that he does this without a self-congratulatory smugness of a contemporary filmmaker "correcting" inequities but rather with the excitement of someone just not being bound by old conventions. Every one from Dev Patel as David to Peter Capaldi as Mr. Micaber to Ben Wheatley as Uriah Heep to Rosiland Eleazar as Agnes to Benedict Wong as Mr. Wickfield are perfectly and cleverly cast. Oh, and did I also mention Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie? How can you not revel in the acting choices made in this film.

Patel delivers a wonderfully energetic performance as the title character, a fallible yet ultimately good-hearted man who overcomes his impoverished roots to become a writer. Iannucci finds engaging ways to convey Copperfield's perspective and imagination.

As with his political satires, Iannucci has a clear-eyed sense of the world but here he gets to not only show the inequities and stupidity but also to highlight the humanity found in people.

"The Personal History of David Copperfield" is a streamlined and lively adaptation of Dickens' beloved classic that can bring joy at a time when I feel like we need it.


It is currently only available in theaters.