Dev Patel Hugh Laurie Tilda Swinton Darren Boyd Gwendoline Christie Ben Wishaw
The clue in knowing what this film will be about is all the names ascribed to David Copperfield—Daisy, Trotwood, Doady, and so on. It’s a Monty Python-like take on the long-revered novel by Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, which offers an account of his early life, albeit with a sense of humor, just as Armando Iannucci’s film, written by Simon Blackwell is—a spoof.
Disturbing scenes are shown of David’s birth, his mother’s remarriage to a tyrant after his father died, and all the various neer-do-wells that he encountered during his life—many of whom he thought could save him from ruin or at least whom he felt sympathetic toward and wanted to help. In that journey, he encounters a man trying to escape his creditors, a pal at school, an aunt who had dismissed him at birth because he wasn’t a girl, a money manager of his aunt’s who has a lovely daughter but also has a problem with alcohol, and numerous people who immediately see him as the savior of the world.
Dev Patel does an admirable job of depicting the lost soul that David is supposed to be and his honorable intentions—as naïve as they may be. A continuing theme of good heartedness throughout is shown by his nursemaid, Peggoty (Daisy May Cooper). Adding color are Tilda Swinton as Aunt Betsey and Hugh Laurie as Mr. Dick. Uriah Heep (Wishaw) is shown to be at first an unctuous character, then something less than that.
You may remember writer/director Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin (2017) and In the Loop (2009), both political satires that were well received, along with his television work on Veep. With his co-writer Simon Blackwell, they make the Copperfield tale more contemporary, with incisive commentary about social issues.
The film loosely reflects author Charles Dickens’ autobiographical novel, highlighting the characters surrounding David in caricature. Peggoty, Uriah Heep, Mr. Dick, and Aunt Betsey are all cleverly portrayed, and bring lots of chuckles; whereas stepfather Murdstone (Boyd) and his sister (Christie) successfully embody meanness and self-interest. Another departure from the novel, making it more contemporary is the cast, which is a diverse group drawn from various cultures.
Personal History offers a fascinating couple of hours as a top-notch cast and updated script take us on a journey in which David Copperfield’s true grit and humor keep the story fast-moving and entertaining.
Rather than an exact rendition of Charles Dickens’ famous novel, Iannucci’s film is spiced up with humor and social commentary that will keep you engaged.