Straight off the bat, I should be clear that I have never read the book, nor am I particularly acquainted with the plot, characters, or really Dickens' work in general. All I knew going into this latest adapatation of David Copperfield is that it had a brilliant looking cast and that several people have told me that the book is a bit dull and nothing really happens. Well, the cast definitely lived up to expectations, but the dullness didn't; on the contrary, David Copperfield is a little like a Victorian Big Fish, filled with whimsy and imagination, twists and turns, and larger-than-life characters who somehow always feel authentic enough for you to care about them.
Whether it was Peter Capaldi's skinflint entreupeneur, Tilda Swinton's made aunt, the family living in the boat-house, Hugh Laurie's utterly brilliant mad, kite-flying Mr Dick (haunted by the dying thoughts of a French King), Gwendoline Christie's evil step-aunt, Benedict Wong's alcoholic gentleman, Morfydd's Clark's air-headed love interest, or Ben Wishaw's coniving and scheming servant-come-lawyer, the world of David Copperfield is brimming with incredible ideas. And then, of course, there is David himself, perfectly portrayed by Dev Patel, who pretty handily upstages almost everyone else (though Laurie is just too perfect not to hold his own). It draws you in and spins a wild ride that leaves you constantly second-guessing what is and isn't, without making you try to solve the puzzle yourself but instead sit and contemplate the fun of it all.
To that end, I have seen some critiscisms that this interpretation of the story downplays the morale underpinnings and pointed highlighting of Victorian problems such as child labour and sweeping social inequality. Whilst I'd agree these are far from the focus of the film, I'd also say those elements of the plot have maybe had their day? Whilst we're still not rid of any of the evils that the narrative touches on, the setting disconnects them from their modern forms to such a great degree that I'm not convinced any version would really make much of an impact these days, whilst pushing them away to focus on the adventure of life and the personal struggles of an individual against the randomness of our world are more timeless and enjoyable for it.
The result is a beautifully designed and brilliantly acted couple of hours which I thoroughly enjoyed, and whoever cast the film deserves a standing ovation of their own. I didn't have the greatest of expectations going in, but I was very impressed by what I found. It may lack a little in depth, but as a feel-good piece of fun, I had a great time.