The Personal History of David Copperfield Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Pros: interesting provocation with the cast; humor in the depiction of the Victorian era; comic characters of Hugh Laurie and Tilda Swinton Cons: happy and solemn ending; The Personal History of David Copperfield is not enough satire

Genre drama, comedy
Directed by Armando Iannucci
Cast: Dev Patel (David Copperfield), Peter Capaldi (Mr. Micawber), Hugh Laurie (Mr. Dick), Tilda Swinton (Betsy Trotwood), Ben Whishaw (Uriah Heap), Aneurin Barnard (James Steerforth), Morved Clark (Dora Spenlow / Clara Copperfield), Daisy May Cooper (Peggotty), Rosalind Elizar (Agnes Wickfield), Paul Whitehouse (Mr. Peggotty), Nikki Amuka-Bird (Mrs. Steerforth), Darren Boyd (Edward Murdstone), Benedict Wong (Mr. Wickfield), etc.
Студии FilmNation Entertainment, Film4 Production, Wishmore Entertainment
Year of release 2019 (in Ukraine 2020)
IMDb website

The very fact that it was Armando Iannucci who brought to the screen the famous novel of a recognized classic of literature suggests that the film “The Story of David Copperfield” will by no means be a standard British drama of the nineteenth century. Take the cast, for example – there are representatives of different races, and the main role is played by an artist of Indian origin. But first things first.

Armando Iannucci is a Scottish director and screenwriter with Italian roots, who has become a fairly famous satirist in the modern film industry. His mockumentary series The Thick of It satirizes the daily lives of modern politicians from all angles, and the full-length film In the Loop successfully continues this theme. One of Iannucci’s most notable works is, of course, the comedy “The Death of Stalin,” in which the director, in a magnificently absurd manner, demonstrates the struggle for totalitarian power, for which there is no value for human life. It is also worth mentioning the director’s multi-part project entitled “Avenue 5”, which became a comedy fantasy about the journey of a space cruise ship, where there is also room for irony over influential and very useless people.

Looking at all of Armando Iannucci’s previous projects, it is difficult to imagine how he can adapt to the format of a costume story. Besides, there is no emphasis on politics in Charles Dickens’ novel, so what will the director talk about? Naturally, Iannucci finds his point of view, adding to all the dramatic events of the picture a humor that is not inherent in the usual depiction of the Victorian era.


The main character of the film, David Copperfield, personally takes on the retelling of the book, presenting it on the theater stage. At one point, he turns to the projector, which visualizes his birthday, and begins to describe the path of his further ups and downs. Copperfield tries to answer the question of whether he will become the hero of his own life after being separated from his mother, a difficult childhood in a factory, reuniting with eccentric relatives and entering a society in which he does not fit in. Interestingly, the presentation of the main character’s book from the stage is a reference to the autobiographical component of the novel by Charles Dickens, who read excerpts from his works to the public.


According to Armando Iannucci himself, he could not imagine anyone else in the role of David Copperfield other than actor Dev Patel, known for the films Slumdog Millionare, The Last Airbender and Lion ). And since the image of the main character departed from generally accepted standards about an English gentleman, the director decided to continue in the same spirit, collecting a rather extraordinary cast. So in the film, in addition to white-skinned Britons, artists of Nigerian and Chinese origin appeared. And this is one of the film’s biggest provocations, testing the audience’s perception capabilities.


Armando Iannucci does not hide the fact that his interpretation should be treated with humor. None of the scenes in the film are truly dramatic, although the plot conveys the essence of the main character’s experiences. Almost all the characters in the film are endowed with exaggerated qualities, which turns them into bustling theatrical characters (which is what David Copperfield needed for a visual presentation of his life).


Among the variety of actors, the most pleasing are the appearances of Hugh Laurie and Tilda Swinton. Both play eccentric relatives of the central character who, without losing their primness, exhibit a slight dose of madness. Tilda Swinton is especially good in the comedic role of an aunt who has a dislike for donkeys and who is organizing her nephew’s life. Well, Dev Patel has the necessary charm that keeps attention on the life of the main character.


In fact, apart from the unusual cast and the general comic manner of the film, Armando Iannucci does not take the liberty of perverting Charles Dickens’ novel in any way. He, in collaboration with his longtime screenwriter colleague Simon Blackwell, significantly condenses the book’s material, but even here he respectfully keeps his distance from sharp sarcasm. This may somewhat disappoint those who are expecting another absurdist show with social issues from the director. Moreover, the script gently avoids some tragic moments, and rather quickly rushes to a solemnly happy ending.


But even being a little disappointed in the director’s display of gentleness, it is worth noting that The Story of David Copperfield is not even close to other film adaptations of the English classics. To appreciate the film, you need to know the original novel and treat the cast with humor. By the way, it also features Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw and Benedict Wong.


You expect a more satirical and poignant adaptation of the material from the director. However, this time he produced a soft (as for Iannucci) and funny adaptation of Dickens. The film is worth watching if you are willing to accept the diversity of the cast and some changes in the novel.

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