Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield starts out with: “To begin my life with the beginning of my life …” First published in book form in 1850, the novel’s complete title reads The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. It’s a very long title and a very long book – 740 pages start to finish – but Dickens himself led a large and eventful life.
In the opinion of most critics, David Copperfield is autobiographical. David, the novel’s eponymous hero, begins his career in a soul-destroying factory in the East End of London. So, more or less, did Dickens. There are other close parallels, one critic even noting that David’s initials – DC – are Dickens’ in reverse.
In case you skipped over David Copperfield in English class and are not familiar with its plot, here are a few pointers to get you started: Young Davy lives in genteel poverty with his widowed mother and their warm-hearted housekeeper, Clara Peggotty. Enter the oh-so-controlling Mr Murdstone who marries Davy’s mother and packs the inconvenient Davy off to a nightmarish boarding-school.
While Davy’s away, his mother dies leaving the boy at the mercy of his cruel stepfather and his even-crueller sister, Jane. Davy is packed off again, this time to Mr Murdstone’s prison-like wine warehouse in London. Davy runs away and finds refuge in Dover with his wildly eccentric aunt, Betsey Trotwood.
Armando Iannucci (writer/producer/director) is a big Dickens’ fan and his film version, The Personal Life of David Copperfield, stays more or less faithful to Dickens’ episodic plot. Iannucci like Dickens does funny, but funny with a razor-sharp edge. Think Iannucci’s Alan Partridge, The Thick of It, Veep and, his last film, The Death of Stalin. Stalin’s bloody purges funny? Trust Iannucci to have you laughing and cringing at the same time.
Iannucci’s comic take is given a big boost here by stars Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, and the irresistible Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) in the title role. What Tony Richardson did for Henry Fielding’s picaresque classic Tom Jones back in 1963, Iannucci does for David Copperfield in 2020. Dickens is timeless, Iannucci is priceless. Catch it while you can at the Kino.
Image Credits: Lionsgate .