David Copperfield is a breath of fresh air. Funny, clever, and not afraid to be innovative, this adaptation of Dickens’s novel directed by Iannucci is an entertaining addition to the period drama scene.
Dev Patel is both hilarious and moving as the film’s titular character, and is joined by a talented cast including the likes of Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, and Tilda Swinton. The casting for this film was very well done. Each actor seemed to almost perfectly fit their role. I also think that many of the funniest moments of the film would not have worked as effectively without this specific cast and their interactions with each other.
The film is structured through a frame narrative, with the adult David telling his story from his birth through his childhood and schooling, up to showing him writing his autobiography. Much of the film is involved with writing, telling stories, and paper. An interesting aspect of the film was its use of projection style images to impose one scene on another, or removing a ‘wall’ so that the audience sees into another scene. These experimental aspects were intriguing but they did also break suspension of disbelief, as they made it apparent that what the audience is experiencing is constructed. This could have been intentional, however I don’t think that it always worked.
The strongest moments of the film were when it leaned most into comedy. I remember leaving the film wishing that it had gone more comedic rather than trying to achieve a balance between comedy and seriousness that – for me at least – didn’t quite work. It is understandable why the film didn’t become a complete parody of Dickens, as they were clearly trying to be somewhat respectful to the story as a classic piece, but knowing what Iannucci is capable of in terms of comedy, as well as what the amazingly talented cast is capable of, I think that it could have worked if the film had been even more satirical and comedic.
There were many laugh out loud moments throughout this film, including any scene involving donkeys, and some ridiculously well-executed scenes involving rather unappetising looking cakes. A lot of the more subtly funny moments were achieved through the way the characters stood or sat in relation to one another, or how they talked to one another.
However, there were also serious moments to the film. Though I think the film worked best with its comedic elements, this is not to say that all of the serious moments were weak. I think that the way that the film showed the young David (played by Jairaj Varsani) being treated badly by Mr and Miss Murdstone and being separated from his mother genuinely felt upsetting and showed the fear that a child can feel of adults. Scenes with Mr Murdstone were often shown from the young David’s perspective as if the audience is looking up at him, which was very effective.
In terms of characters, it genuinely felt as if every character worked extremely well as part of the cast. But some stand-out performances would have to be Morfydd Clark as Dora Spenlow, as her character’s abundance of awkwardness with Dev Patel’s Copperfield meant that their every interaction was very entertaining and funny. Tilda Swinton also stood out in her role as Betsey Trotwood, as did Hugh Laurie as Mr. Dick. Though she played a relatively minor character, Nikki Amuka-Bird was also very convincing as the proud and uncompromising Mrs Steerforth.
Overall, this film is definitely one to watch for fans of period drama. For people who aren’t, it is still probably one to watch because of the different approach that it takes. Though at times it may feel like it veers into being too experimental, it is never boring.