The Personal History of David Copperfield: The colour barrier of costume drama, a thing of the past

A Review by Eric Arnett

Armando Iannucci’s hugely likeable adaptation of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield explores the author’s humanity and hopefulness.

This is a film about authorship and how personal experience shapes the narrative. The book is considered to be Dickens’s most autobiographical of his works. There is a strong focus on poverty and homelessness, an emphasis on positive and negative attitudes towards mental health which are direct links from Victorian England, reaching into the 21st Century. This is understandable, considering Iannucci’s background in satire.

Dev Patel plays the eponymous hero in a very even handed and open manner. His character delves into a journey of self discovery with an astonishing array of players: Benedict Wong as the wine fuddled Mr Wickfield, Tilda Swinton who gives an impressive performance as the donkey hating Betsey Trotwood, Peter Capaldi’s as the eternal optimist and terrible squeeze box player Mr Micawber, and Ben Wishaw excels as the pitiful and vicious upstart Uriah Heep.

The material is handled in vignettes, much like a sketch comedy, and there is a certain air of surrealism throughout. Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of Mr Dick shows some of the higher flights of fancy in the film and adds some humour.

The production is a wonderful retort to Hollywood’s obsessive whitewashing of history. David Copperfield is colour blind and hugely diverse making the film charming and crowd pleasing. This is a film very much of the present day, reinterpreting and modernising history. The colour barrier of costume drama may soon be a thing of the past.

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