Linda Cook review: Who the Dickens would not love ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield?’



Dev Patel stars in the latest film version of a Charles Dickens classic.

Why the Dickens are you reading this review and not in a theater seeing “The Personal History of David Copperfield?”

That goes especially for you fans of Charles Dickens and you Whovians.  

This movie had good buzz when it opened in the fall of 2019 in England. It was supposed to be released in May in the states, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented that.

It’s finally here, and it’s wonderful, with its color-blind casting – think “Hamilton” – and allegiance to the classic novel.

It’s set in the 1840s, when the young David Copperfield has a happy life. That is, until his widowed mother marries a cruel man who sends David first to a board school and then to a factory, where he barely ekes out a living and resides with his impoverished landlord Mr. Micawber (a marvelous Peter Capaldi, who richly deserves an Oscar  nomination for Best Supporting Actor).

The grownup David, played by Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire” and “Lion”) can’t catch a break. He seeks help from his only living relative, his eccentric great-aunt (Tilda Swinton) who lives with her relative Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie), a man who cannot stop thinking about the beheading of King Charles I. One of my favorite scenes involves the way David helps Mr. Dick clear his thoughts, if only for a few minutes.

When David’s aunt sends him off to school, he makes friends, impresses an attorney (another “Dr. Who” alumnus, Benedict Wong), and meets a giddy young woman with whom he falls in love. He also meets the lawyer’s clerk, the creepy Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw). (Yes, a 1970s rock band bore that same name.)  

I love the way Dickens’ words appear briefly as a sort of visual narrative to move along the story, which ranges from drama to comedy in various scenes.

This film has it all: The wit and wisdom of Dickens and his memorable characters, terrific cinematography and gorgeous environments, from bustling street scenes to dingy flats.

If you’re a fan of British cinema, you won’t want to miss this beautiful version of a timeless tale that’s bound to be one of the best movies of the year.

4 out of 4 stars

Rated: PG for brief violence and adult themes.

Running time: A few minutes shy of two hours.

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