The Personal History of David Copperfield

⭐⭐⭐⭐ based on 1 review.

tl;dr: A fantastical romp through the imagination of a man whose life seems set to conspire against him, all set in true Victoriana. Combine with an exceptional cast and some clever dialogue and the result is delightful.


Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I've never read or otherwise engaged with the story of David Copperfield before, so I went into this film really only knowing one thing: the cast looked exceptional. Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Gwendoline Christie, Ben Whishaw... the list just keeps going on and on! Luckily, the performances lived up to expectations: Whishaw is incredibly slimy and unnerving; Christie is domineering and iron-fisted; Capaldi is capricious as a Fagen-esque con man; Patel is excellent as the endearing everyman; and of course the oddball coupling of Swinton and Laurie as Besty and Mr Dick is just hugely fun to watch.

In fact, "hugely fun to watch" is how I would sum up David Copperfield. The plot has more than a little of Big Fish about it (though, obviously the source material dates that film somewhat 😁), being told through the narrative of the book that David is writing, meaning that people, places, and event all feel equal parts exaggeration and reality that lends a slight fantasy to goings-on. Cleverly, the events that happen in David's childhood tend to feel the most exaggerated or simplistic in terms of morality, which fits the biographic nature of the tale, though even in the latter half of his life he is clearly happy to lean on gimmicks a little, as with his disappearing girlfriend (I'm still not entirely sure about that part, but it was a fun use of the storytelling device). At the same time, the strength of the performances and dialogue in general help ground the most elaborate moments and keep the heart of the film firmly in the realms of men. Paired together, it works wonderfully.

There could definitely be some feeling that the story leans a little too far towards the ridiculous at times, or that character development is relatively light on the ground, but I don't think either are points worth getting hung up on. David Copperfield is a tale about imagination and that it achieves that whilst still feeling at least a little like a period piece is to its credit. I had a great time and whilst I don't feel the need to rush back at any point, I think elements will stick with me for some time.

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