The independent London newspaper

A very theatrical Copperfield that Dickens would recognise as his own

23 January, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Ben Whishaw as Uriah Heap

Directed by Armando Iannucci
Certificate 12a

WHAT a joy it is to see a film take Charles Dickens’ personal favourite story and so cleverly translate it into a different medium.

Dickens, who loved am dram and play acting, would recognise this very theatrical production as his own in all its ludicrous gloriousness.

Where to start with this luvvie-face-feast, this orgy of crisp-vowelled, arched eyebrow’d, Brit-thesp fun: it is hard to think of a film with quite so enjoyable a cast.

David (Dev Patel)introduces the story standing on a stage, like Dickens loved to do – and then woosh!… we’re taken to the day of his birth in his Suffolk house. From here, he becomes the observer/narrator as a series of characters, misfortunes and intrigues unfold.

His widowed mother re-marries the nasty Mr Murdstone (Darren Boyd) and David is eventually sent to the slums of London to work in a factory, while lodging with the penniless but charming Mr Micawber and family.

Adventure after adventure follows. The book was a long-running serial and some trimming and rearranging has been necessary to bring it into feature length, rather than create a TV series. Iannucci has wielded a sharp and discerning scalpel.

Patel as David plays Dev Patel, playing David – and it works brilliantly. Each lead film role he has previously excelled in has that same character about him – the good chap a little lost in a world full of elephant traps waiting for him to tumble into.

Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Paul Whitehouse, Ben Whishaw, Daisy May Cooper and Peter Capaldi are joined by a cast of supporting characters that get the mixture of eccentricity, kindness, banal evil and Victorian grubbiness.

Across the board, the actors’ performances taste as classically English as a ploughman’s lunch served up in a country pub’s garden with dray horse-delivered flat beer to wash it down.

There is something rather lovely about watching some of our national treasures enjoying themselves on screen in this way: it helps the viewer create a direct link between those who give our national culture a richness today, and how they are the direct descendants of Dickens and his contemporaries.

I imagine Dickens would be thrilled by this reimagining of the book he said he enjoyed writing more than any other.


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