January 26, 2020
Armando Iannucci both respects and reinvents the novel in a wonderfully entertaining adaptation full to bursting with fantastic comic performances
The Personal History of David Copperfield review – Iannucci makes Dickens his own
Having found unexpected laughter in the historical horrors of The Death of Stalin, Armando Iannucci works comedic wonders with the labyrinthine twists and turns of Dickens’s endlessly reinterpretable Victorian narrative. Astutely amplifying the absurdist – and remarkably modernist – elements of his source, Iannucci and co-writer Simon Blackwell conjure a surreal cinematic odyssey that is as accessible as it is intelligent and unexpected. At its heart lies a theatrical journey of self-discovery, in which our narrator (superbly played by the endlessly versatile Dev Patel) sets out to determine whether he is “the hero of my own story”, struggling to make a name for himself (literally) as he strides through a vividly realised landscape of memory and invention.
We open with Copperfield on stage, commencing the recitation of his story before striding through a painted backdrop straight into the glowing landscape of East Anglia. It’s a device that will be revisited as scenes fall away like tarpaulin backdrops and memories are projected on to walls, interspersed by handwritten chapter-headings. As with Michael Winterbottom’s Tristram Shandy adaptation A Cock & Bull Story, Iannucci plays inventively with the creative process, displaying a keen eye for visual storytelling as the adult Copperfield witnesses his own birth, comes face to face with his boyish younger self (a terrific performance by Ranveer Jaiswal), and learns to weave characters in and out of his life as he pens a “written memory wherein loss and love live for ever side by side”.
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