An unexpectedly escapist delight of independent cinema from the master of satire.

In a similar fashion to ‘In the Loop’ and ‘The Death of Stalin’, writer/director Armando Iannucci envelops this comedy-drama with his usual flair for surreal humour. 

While those previous projects focused on the power games played by political manipulators in gloriously absurdist style, they are much colder in comparison to his new release. And so they should be, if they weren’t then the chaos wouldn’t be as hysterical. 

Although all are undeniably beautifully crafted works, this film is set apart by its surprisingly romantic tone. After all, this is ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ from childhood to adulthood. A rather more emotional story of both struggle and success that is ultimately uplifting, as well as being hilariously bizarre.

Actor Dev Patel in character as David Copperfield in ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ | © Channel Four Television Corporation 2020

A tale of two halves, each stage in the life of David Copperfield (Patel) is coloured in light and dark. From his idyllic childhood in the country filled with imagination to the poverty and humiliation of the factory in the city. From the eccentricity of his relatives Mr. Dick (Laurie) and Betsy Trotwood (Swinton), both of whom give brilliant performances, back in the country to the return to hardship after their bankruptcy back in the city. 

From falling in love and losing a friend to regaining financial control and being fulfilled by writing and companionship, this Copperfield story is injected with an eclectic cast of great British talent. Laurie, Swinton, Capaldi and Wishaw are able to take flight from the platform of smart writing; uproarious and melancholy.

Nominated for an impressive 11 British Independent Film Awards, ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ won five including Best Screenplay for Iannucci and Blackwell, Best Supporting Actor for Laurie and Best Casting for Sarah Crowe. 

She is also nominated for a BAFTA in the same category, created this year, disappointingly the film’s only nomination there. Even recognition in the Best British Film category, where commercially modest but nevertheless critically acclaimed independent films overlooked elsewhere at major awards ceremonies usually do well, was also denied. It deserved better.

‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ Poster | © Lions Gate International (UK) Limited.

My only criticism, admittedly trivial in relation to the overall excellence, is that by condensing a large part of a life into two hours, a lot of breathing space for greater analysis is unavailable.  With multiple characters and myriad locations to fit in, the fast pace of the film could have benefited from moments to pause. 

Conversely, no scenes or situations ever feel rushed while each of the major supporting players appear throughout with new material to develop their characters. But maybe that was the point; the high speed of unfolding events also keeps the film fresh and maintains our engagement in an age of ever reducing attention spans. And with that, I’ve solved nothing.     

Many people have asked the question: ‘What would you say to your younger self?’ As the very last words of the film, Copperfield says to his younger self, “Don’t worry. We’ll make it through and we’ll have quite the ride on the way”. 

Symbolic of the film’s warm nature from the beginning, we now have the answer in the most hopeful of endings. Refreshingly heartfelt and beautifully made, Iannucci has delivered an entertaining comedy and impactful drama that warranted more attention this awards season. Especially at the BAFTAs.    

‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ is in cinemas now.

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I attended Dunfermline High School from 2010 to 2016. I wrote my own column called ‘Adam’s Adventures’ and other articles for the school magazine, the ‘Pupils’ Press’, for its first 12 issues over three years and solely edited the last four editions. I created the official high school ‘Yearbook DVD’ and produced the exclusive 2016 calendar during my last year, independently. I also volunteered at the school mathematics shop, the ‘Stationery Village’, for three years and was appointed prefect for four years.I am currently in fourth year studying the BA (Hons) Journalism course at Edinburgh Napier University and contribute as an arts writer to The Edinburgh Reporter. I have achieved The Duke of Edinburgh’s (Bronze) Award and received grade five level certification for electronic keyboard from Trinity College London. In my spare time, I enjoy photography and travelling by railway, catching up with my friends and family and visiting my caravan away in the country. I must admit that I love good food which is both a thrilling and dangerous relationship.