Film Review: ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ ★★★★

Direction: Armando Iannucci
Screenplay: Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell
Cast: Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi,
Ben Whishaw, Paul Whitehouse, Aneurin Barnard, Daisy May Cooper
Length: 119 minutes
Rating: PG

An unexpectedly escapist delight of independent cinema from the master of satire.

In a similar fashion to ‘In the Loop’ and ‘The Death of Stalin’, writer/director Armando Iannucci envelops this comedy-drama with his usual flair for surreal humour. While those previous projects focused on the power games played by political manipulators in gloriously absurdist style, they are much colder in comparison to his new release. And so they should be, if they weren’t then the chaos wouldn’t be as hysterical. Although all are undeniably beautifully crafted works, this film is set apart by its surprisingly romantic tone. After all, this is ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ from childhood to adulthood. A rather more emotional story of both struggle and success that is ultimately uplifting, as well as being hilariously bizarre.

A tale of two halves, each stage in the life of David Copperfield (Patel) is coloured in light and dark. From his idyllic childhood in the country filled with imagination to the poverty and humiliation of the factory in the city. From the eccentricity of his relatives Mr. Dick (Laurie) and Betsy Trotwood (Swinton), both of whom give brilliant performances, back in the country to the return to hardship after their bankruptcy back in the city. From falling in love and losing a friend to regaining financial control and being fulfilled by writing and companionship, this Copperfield story is injected with an eclectic cast of great British talent. Laurie, Swinton, Capaldi and Wishaw are able to take flight from the platform of smart writing; uproarious and melancholy.

‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ Poster | © Lions Gate International (UK) Limited.

Nominated for an impressive 11 British Independent Film Awards, ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ won five including Best Screenplay for Iannucci and Blackwell, Best Supporting Actor for Laurie and Best Casting for Sarah Crowe. She is also nominated for a BAFTA in the same category, created this year, disappointingly the film’s only nomination there. Even recognition in the Best British Film category, where commercially modest but nevertheless critically acclaimed independent films overlooked elsewhere at major awards ceremonies usually do well, was also denied. It deserved better.

My only criticism, admittedly trivial in relation to the overall excellence, is that by condensing a large part of a life into two hours, a lot of breathing space for greater analysis is unavailable. With multiple characters and myriad locations to fit in, the fast pace of the film could have benefited from moments to pause. Conversely, no scenes or situations ever feel rushed while each of the major supporting players appear throughout with new material to develop their characters. But maybe that was the point; the high speed of unfolding events also keeps the film fresh and maintains our engagement in an age of ever reducing attention spans. And with that, I’ve solved nothing.

Actor Dev Patel in character as David Copperfield in ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ | © Channel Four Television Corporation 2020

Many people have asked the question: ‘What would you say to your younger self?’ As the very last words of the film, Copperfield says to his younger self, “Don’t worry. We’ll make it through and we’ll have quite the ride on the way”. Symbolic of the film’s warm nature from the beginning, we now have the answer in the most hopeful of endings. Refreshingly heartfelt and beautifully made, Iannucci has delivered an entertaining comedy and impactful drama that warranted more attention this awards season. Especially at the BAFTAs.

‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ is in cinemas now.
★★★★

The British Academy Film Awards’ will be broadcast at 21:00 on Sunday 2 February 2020 on BBC One and HD. The BBC News Channel and HD will broadcast ‘Baftas 2020: Red Carpet Show’ at 17:15 and ‘Baftas 2020: Results Show’ at 21:30 on Sunday 2 February and ‘Baftas 2020: Extra Time’ at 00:30 on Monday 3 February 2020.

2019 BAFTA Nominees

The 72nd British Academy Film Awards will take place this Sunday, February 10th.

The Favourite leads with 12 nominations, followed by Roma and A Star is Born, which are both up for 7 awards.

Here’s a look at the key nominees:

 

You can find a full list of nominees for all awards here.

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