“The Personal History of David Copperfield” (2020) tells the story of David Copperfield’s (Dev Patel) life from birth in a well-to-do family to poverty and back up and down again. On the way Copperfield finds love, hardship, loss and joy. Despite everything he is an honest soul who wants to be able to devote time to writing and have a fair shot at becoming the person he is.
This includes reclaiming his own name as various characters decide they’d prefer to call him something else entirely. At times he doesn’t even know what to call himself.
Patel finds great humour through physicality and facial expression but still comes across as the straight actor in a cast of eccentrics. The cast is made up of a who’s-who of British talent.
Peter Capaldi brings an honest lovability to the down-and-out father of apparently hundreds of children who is in perpetual debt, Mr Micawber. Hugh Laurie plays the unhinged Mr Dick who mirrors Copperfield’s need to write down his thoughts lest they become intrusive and troubling.
The donkey-hating slightly scatty Aunt Trotwood is brilliantly played by Tilda Swinton. And Paul Whitehouse is peak Paul Whitehouse as the heavily accented Yarmouth fisherman Mr Peggoty.
Ben Wishaw is an absolute treat as the lizard-like Uriah Heep who is the abused servant class who rises up to suck the life out of the wealthy. The young Copperfield is played by Jairaj Varsani who was just absolutely fantastic in every scene. What awards will he get next season?
But what I really loved was the colour-blind casting. The most appropriate actor was chosen for each role regardless of race. Characters who were related were played by actors of different races. It wasn’t distracting in the least but made for a richer and better experience.
It also isn’t a political statement and it’s not commented on. It just means that the talent pool was widened and we get to see the best actors possible in every part. Casting Director Sarah Crowe has received a BAFTA nomination for the casting of this film.
Rosalind Eleazar’s innocently flirtatious Agnes tugged at the heartstrings and her father the drunk but loveable Mr Wickfield is played by Benedict Wong. The stern and frightening presence Mrs Steerforth was played with authority by Nikki Amuka-Bird.
The design of the film showcases the joy and creativity in visual storytelling. One scene gives way to another with projections, giant hands smashing the set away, or by entire bookshelves whisking into the air like the backdrop of a play.
The scenery itself is meticulous as Copperfield bounces between poverty and overcrowding to riches and back again. Along with the changing colour palettes, it shows his changing fortunes and how joyful childhood memories compare with a more dilapidated reality.
All put together with exquisite costuming, it makes for a wonderfully visual experience that does a lot of the storytelling without words.
Hi, I'm Caz. I live in Edinburgh and I watch a lot of films. My reviews focus mainly on women in film - female directors or how women are represented on screen.