The Personal History of David Copperfield – TIFF 2019 Review

There’s something so sublimely rewarding about Armando Ianucci’s latest film, The Personal History of David Copperfield. Adapted from the original Dickens novel, Dev Petel shines in the lead titular role, as he parades the streets of great Britain, with numerous downfalls and positive upbringings included in his short journey of self-discovery. The original text from 1849, is a largely transcendent book; a piece of media that withstands the test of time through it’s wild characters and subverted expectations. Inspired by Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Armando’s primary goal was to make a costume period piece drama that wouldn’t reek of senseless boredom. To put it shortly, he most definitely succeeded in entertaining his audience. From the high octane energy, to the nonstop quips and interchanging gags, the film never fails to amuse it’s audience, regardless of how repetitive, random, or imaginative these subplots can be. 

Of course there’s the massive elephant in the room, the ethnically relevant casting. Unlike what Dickens’ purists would usually argue against Dev Patel’s role, the story of David Copperfield is largely about a peculiar, hardworking man, who continuously falls under the oppressive rule of his very own capitalist society. By adding a race element into the plot, not only does the original Dickens story hold more metaphorical weight; but also manages to add a modern, contemporary element, to a film that is entirely situated in the past. Armando is making us think with this casting, and our perspective of modern media. Why bicker and banter about someone else’s color of skin, when we’re all just the same person; a unified identity that comes from a long line of prejudicial history?

As it may have already come to the attention by this point, The Personal History of David Copperfield is unlike any other of Ianucci’s previous projects. Instead of taking the classical satirical political route that he has previously established with pieces such as The Death of Stalin, In the Loop, and Veep; his latest film has something that all of those previously mentioned films/television series don’t have. A living breathing soul; a curiosity for the world seen from an enlightened perspective. Not only is The Personal History of David Copperfield his most accessible yet, it’s also Ianucci’s most crowd pleasing effort. 

Packed with a stellar cast, included an eccentric Hugh Laurie and an ecstatically talented Tilda Swinton (who arguable helms the best performance in the film as her role of Aunt Betsey Trotwood; a confused delirious elder woman who hates donkey’s with a burning passion), there’s no denying that The Personal History of David Copperfield is a dignified success. It may be a bit sporadic and clumsily executed in terms of some specific subplots that just go off the rails; but Ianucci’s ever-evolving style and eye for cinema, is something that I can’t wait to return too see for, in the future! 

The Personal History Of David Copperfield screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Fox Searchlight pictures will release the film in 2020

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