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LFF 2019: The Personal History of David Copperfield Review

The London Film Festival 2019 opened with this delightfully charming re-imagining of Charles Dickens most beloved and larger than life autobiographical novel – and it’s an absolute joy! Most known for The Thick of It and Veep, Armando Giovanni leaves the satirical comedy behind to dive into his love of literature with this characterful adaptation of a classic Victorian tale.

The Personal History of David Copperfield chronicles the adventures of David Copperfield (Dev Patel) from birth to adulthood, spectacularly bringing to life the rich and more eccentric characters he meets along the way. Opening with David on stage recounting the tale of his life, we follow the trials and tribulations from his relatively happy childhood with housekeeper Peggotty (Daisy May Cooper) at her upside down boat-house in Yarmouth, to attending boarding school, Salem House and eventually becoming a procter in London.

This is an uplifting, entertaining and ever optimistic take on the timeless tale, wonderfully brought to life by a fantastic ensemble cast. The two hours race by with crazy, whirlwind pacing, neatly segmented into significant chapters of David’s life. Yes Giovanni has trimmed the original source material down; combining some characters and leaving out certain events, but the resulting product is a film full of life and humour. The central themes of poverty and social inequality are still at the forefront, particularly resonating with Peter Capaldi’s Mr. Micawber.

Giovanni rips up the rulebook for the traditional British period drama with fantastic colourblind casting. The ambitious film hinges on the central performances of the British ensemble, particularly lead Dev Patel, but thankfully the 29 year old excellently carries the film with an effortless charm and bags of heart. There’s particularly fantastic chemistry between Patel’s Copperfield and Swinton and Laurie’s donkey-phobic Betsey Trotwood and the often baffled Mr Dick, who run the risk of stealing the show with their eccentrically delightful characters. Other standouts include Peter Capaldi’s turn as Mr Macawber, with his optimistic belief that “something will turn up”, Ben Whishaw’s villanous Uriah Heep (boo hiss boo!) and newcomer Jairaj Varsani who wonderfully portrays a young Copperfield.

Dickens’ seminal novel is exquisitely brought to life with fantastic costume design from Suzie Harman and Robert Worley, impressively involved production design from Cristina Casali and glorious vistas of Yarmouth and Dover. Along with the typical period settings, there’s also a number of more wonderfully eccentric flourishes including Mr Murdstone’s giant hand grabbing at Peggotty’s houseboat.


The Personal History of David Copperfield is a real treasure of a film full of wonderful performances, beautiful set design and ever relevant themes. Giovanni successfully translates Charles Dickens’ novel to the big screen, making it an accessible and current reimagining.