If you have followed my reviews for any amount of time you know I love my period pieces. Whether it is Austen, Dickens, Gaskell I like going back to the times of manners and rules and getting swept away in the journey (and usually romance) of it all. Even this year my favorite movie so far is the latest version of Emma.
While admitting this taste for the past, even I must admit that sometimes these films can be a little bit stuffy, and I can see why they do not appeal to everyone. However, one thing I’ve noticed since Yorgos Lanthimos’ film The Favourite we’ve been getting period films with more of an edge to them. Indeed even the aforementioned Emma made some creative choices like having a memorable nose bleed where a kiss would normally come.
Now we have the latest edgy take on the past with a new adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic novel The Personal History of David Copperfield. This version is directed by Armando Lannucci and at times it felt like a cross between Lanthimos and director Wes Anderson. It had the sarcasm of the former with the whimsy of the latter. It definitely won’t be for everyone but I really enjoyed it.
The outside the box thinking in this David Copperfield starts with the eclectic colorblind casting. This works because it is not trying to be a realistic version. At one point a character sticks his hand through a house so we are asked to go with the flow and not care. It also doesn’t hurt that Dev Patel plays David who I have loved ever since Slumdog Millionaire and recently in the Oscar nominated film Lion. He is not only extremely handsome and talented as an actor but he has a warmth to him that makes him easy to root for and he brings all that likability to the table playing the often down-on-his-luck David.
I also loved the production design and costumes in this David Copperfield. It’s probably the best in either of those categories I’ve seen this year. I particularly adored a little house made out of a boat that seems to come from David’s imagination but also his own life. All the hats are stunning and the dresses full of flare. It’s so much fun to watch.
My favorite part of this David Copperfield is it feels fresh. It’s not only quite funny but it’s also unpredictable and surprising. Granted I am not very familiar with this particular novel like I am with something like A Christmas Carol or even Great Expectations so it is easier to surprise me but so many of the choices were unexpected and new. Even the transitions between scenes were cleverly done with wipes and techniques I haven’t seen before in a movie like this.
The only downside to this film is at times it can be too random to the extent it is hard to follow. I was honestly glad to be able to watch this at home so I could read the plot summary as I went, which helped make things clearer. Other people more familiar with the novel may not have that problem but nevertheless the film can sometimes be a bit all over the place.
In addition to Patel, the cast is wonderful (and hilarious) with such talents as Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi and Ben Whishaw. Their skills and the fresh take on the material make The Personal History of David Copperfield definitely worth a watch whether it is in the theater or at home. Enjoy and let me know what you think especially if you are more familiar with the book.
7.5 out of 10