Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Dev Patel in The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

The Personal History of David Copperfield

(based on the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens)

Starring: Dev Patel, Jairaj Varsani, Ranveer Jaiswal, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw, Rosalind Eleazar, Morfydd Clark, Gwendoline Christie

Year: 2019

My Rating★★★★★

I'm an avid lover of Charles Dickens' work. So the moment I saw the trailer 6 months ago at a showing of the last movie I saw in the theater, Emma, I knew that as soon as possible, I wanted to watch The Personal History of David Copperfield. Whereas Emma didn't fully work for me, this movie did, in so many glorious ways. So I braved the theater with my sister for the first time since March 2020. We had popcorn and soda and social distanced from the other attendees and thoroughly enjoyed seeing a movie on the big screen.

The story begins with David, as he tells his youth and upbringing himself. Dev Patel as grown-up David Copperfield joins his mother, her housekeeper Peggotty, and his aunt Betsy Trotwood played by Tilda Swinton at the moment of his birth. This is a unique plot device having Dev Patel there, but it worked because of the way the story is narrated. After all, this is David, telling his own story, so why wouldn't he, grown-up David, be there at the moment of his birth?

For those unfamiliar with the Dickens' story, young David (played brilliantly by Ranveer Jaiswal) lives happily with his mother and Peggotty until his mother marries again when he's still a lad. His stepfather, Mr. Murdstone, and the man's sister Jane Murdstone are tyrants of the first order, a fact David realizes the first time he talks back to Mr. Murdstone and is cruelly horsewhipped for his insubordination. David (now played just as brilliantly by Jairaj Varsani) is then sent away by Murdstone to work in Murdstone's bootblack factory and live with an impoverished and silly man by the name of Micawber (Peter Capaldi) and his family. Inevitably, David's mother dies and David (now Dev Patel) leaves the factory to seek out his only living relation, his Aunt Betsy Trotwood who did not want him when he was born because he was a boy and not a girl, and her cousin Mr. Dick, played by the marvelous Hugh Laurie of Jeeves & Wooster and House fame.

Dev Patel as David Copperfield
David inevitably attends school where he meets and befriends a young man named Steerforth, meets a steady and faithful girl named Agnes (played wonderfully by Rosalind Eleazar) who he does not yet love, and ends up falling in love with Dora (Morfydd Clark who will apparently be in the new The Lord of the Rings that I'm very hesitant about), the lovely and foolish daughter of his future employer. Ben Wishaw plays Uriah Heep, a scoundrel version of Mr. Guppy from Bleak House.

The story of David Copperfield is always about the ups and downs, highs and lows of life. David starts life happy for about 8 years, then is miserable in the bootblack factory for about 10 years, until he's adopted by his aunt and goes to school, then his aunt loses everything, and so on and so forth. This is life as we know it. It's not always going to be a happy experience. There will be a combination of good times and hardships. I love that Dickens wrote his stories based on this premise, but always with such a ray of hope, and as we know, the story of David Copperfield is very nearly an autobiography of his own life.

There were many many moments where it felt like I was watching a story about Charles Dickens with Dev Patel as the great man himself. I LOVE that. It was a brilliant bit of directing. Let's just stop and talk about Dev Patel for a minute. He was born to play David Copperfield. I love him in this role. He attacked it with zeal and fervency and just made David come alive on the big screen. This brings me to Jairaj Varsani and Ranveer Jaiswal both playing young David Copperfield. I adore child actors. They have so much spark and pizzazz and both of these little boys are remarkable. I couldn't have asked for better child actors to take on the role of David Copperfield in his youth. There's a striking moment at the end of the film where grown-up David and young David (I believe it's Jairaj Varsani) see each other and grown-up David encourages him that it will all turn out right in the end. It's such a great moment.

Hugh Laurie, Dev Patel, and Tilda Swinton
Hugh Laurie has always been a favorite of mine, not for House, but because of Jeeves and Wooster. Having him play Mr. Dick just gave me so many warm fuzzies. He's such a comedic actor, so it worked really well, his particular blend of comedy and serious. I'm not keen on Tilda Swinton at the best of times, but I really liked her as Aunt Betsy. She's got that lovely tinge of crazy that just works, and I felt like she fit into the role and into the world being created very, very well. Ben Wishaw is a man of many talents and voices. I have never liked the character of Uriah Heep, will never like him, and Ben Wishaw made him even slimier than usual. You have to have a villain and since Mr. Murdstone is surprisingly not a permanent fixture of abuse in David's life, there needed to be someone else. Thus enters Uriah Heep.

What can I saw of Peter Capaldi? This is the first role of his that I've ever seen where I liked the man. He always strikes me as just a little harsh, so having him play Micawber was a really nice change. After all, Micawber is a vital role in the story. He's eternal optimism if you will, and based on Dickens' own father, a man who constantly thought "something will turn up" to get him out of a jam when really, paying his creditors would have done much better than having blind faith in the generosity of others. It was good to see Capaldi play someone dramatic, but also very kind, just not very trustworthy. He did a good job, which is a lot coming from me.

Dev Patel, Rosalind Eleazer, and Hugh Laurie
I can already tell you that The Personal History of David Copperfield will not be for everyone. The screenplay is playful and peculiar and the director approached the story with a unique view, like projecting images onto walls when a character is telling a story of what has happened to them. Or even going into a little bit of a silent picture filming style for fun. They even cut away a wall of the scene, if that makes sense, to put the characters in another scene that has already happened. I know it's supremely hard to describe, but it really works. Yes, the filming style and scripting can take some getting used to, but I think the overall effect is clever. Also, this is a diverse cast and not everyone will be okay with that. Both my sister and I loved that they obviously cast the actors based on their performance strengths since everyone, and I do mean everyone, fit their roles perfectly. The movie is also really, really clean. We don't have any modern morals (or lack thereof) or agendas thrown into the mix making a muddle of the story. It's simply telling the story of David Copperfield, and telling it really well, and concisely.

In many ways, I love this as much as the 2002 version of Nicholas Nickleby with Charlie Hunnam and Jamie Bell. That is a brilliant adaption, a little odd in places, but it matches the world that Dickens created. It's the same with The Personal History of David Copperfield. I feel very strongly that Dicken would have enjoyed this adaptation. Are parts of the story left out? Of course, you can't possibly fit everything into 2 hours, not unless you're adapting A Christmas Carol. But I didn't miss the bits that aren't there and that's the sign of a good adaptation.

Jairaj Varsani and Peter Capaldi

If you get a chance, try going back to your local theater. Believe me, they need the business and unless we want to see that part of the economy just tank completely, moviegoers are going to have to brave returning to the silver screen that they love. It was the cleanest that I have ever seen a theater, and they showed us how they disinfect and I can't imagine it being anything less than completely efficient. We felt very, very safe.

I am thankful to have had the opportunity of seeing The Personal  History of David Copperfield on the silver screen. It's really brilliant in a theater, so engulfing and immersive. There was applause from my little audience and many moments of laughter since we could actually have our masks off if we had food and drink, which we all did because what's a theater experience without soda and popcorn. I think we were all just ready to enjoy ourselves and The Personal History of David Copperfield filled the bill nicely.

6 yorum:

  1. I do like the '02 Nicholas Nickleby and really REALLY want to see this one!! (I'm also sliiiiightly nervous as David Copperfield is my favorite Dickens and well, that alone will always bring some hesitancy. ;)) And it's got Hugh Laurie! I have seen House (which, yeah, isn't a favorite, but is also undeniably brilliant in many ways :p). Partly though it makes me sad as yes, I very highly enjoy seeing Hugh Laurie in overtly comedic roles. Anyhow, it's good to hear you enjoyed this one and recommend it!

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    1. I think I just really love how playful this is. I enjoy a couple of the other versions, especially the one with Maggie Smith as Aunt Betsy. They definitely have their merits. But it's fun to see a director and screenplay writer take a different approach. It makes it unique and that was entertaining.

      Hugh Laurie is marvelous. I think you'll love him as Mr. Dick even if you're not sure about the adaptation itself. ♥

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  2. When I first saw the trailer I was SO EXCITED because Dev Patel is absolutely perfect for David Copperfield!!! The rest of the cast looked totally fitting (especially Morfydd Clark!). I didn't love the book, but I was pretty young when I read it and didn't understand much. Time for a reread of the 500+ page work? We'll see. Maybe after I see this!! It won't be in the theater, sadly, but soon I hope! Your review has made me want to watch it more!

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    1. Right!? Isn't Dev Patel awesome just in general! He was the main reason why I got excited in the first place, and well, I'm a Hugh Laurie fan, so definitely him. I haven't read the book yet, but I've seen many adaptations so am quite familiar with the story. I do need to read it one of these years, that's for sure. ♥

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  3. Ooooh, I cannot wait to see this! I love anything Dickens - even the not so great adaptations are still worth watching. Dev Patel will be fantastic, I am sure!

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    1. Yay! Then I'm sure you will love this one! I knew I would love it when I was barely 30 seconds into the trailer and the movie just confirmed that original feeling. So brilliant. I hope they start releasing it on DVD soon although I think it's released on Region 2 right now. Here's hoping for Region 1 for me and Region 4 for you! ♥

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Thank you for your kind comments, which I adore!