TIFF 2019: “The Personal History of David Copperfield” Review

TIFF 2019: “The Personal History of David Copperfield” Review

The Personal History of David Copperfield had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival to a sold-out crowd. The film, directed by Armando Iannucci, is an adaptation of one of Charles Dickens’ beloved novels. From a very young age, David Copperfield (Dev Patel) leads a tumultuous life of joy, loss, poverty, and riches. The new marriage of his widowed mother set him off on a path that would have him work at a factory for his evil step-father while living in poverty, live in a capsized boat with his housekeepers family, attending a gentleman’s school, living in the beautiful Dover home of his eccentric aunt Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton), and meeting many colorful characters along the way. This journey of self-discovery would lead him to the conclusion that he was meant to be a writer.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is a heartwarming and delightfully hilarious film that fully embraces the eccentric and colorful characters of the Dickens’ novel. Dev Patel leads the cast as the charming and endearing David Copperfield. His range as an actor is on full display in the film, managing to capture the whimsy and joy of the lighthearted moments, while also capturing the poignant and intense moments as well. I never knew that I needed to see Peter Capaldi who played David’s somewhat foster father, Mr. Micawber, and Hugh Laurie playing his aunt’s friend, Mr. Dick together on film, but now that I have, I’m in love. Their offbeat performances and zany characters are some of the best parts of the film. It brings out the best in these actors. Top that off with a Tilda Swinton performance that rivals her eccentrics in a Wes Andersen film, you have a wildly funny film.

The film manages to bring a beloved work of literature to life in the most magical way. It reinvigorates my love of literature as I’m watching the film, reminding me of the magic created by storytelling. Director Armando Iannucci shows respect for storytelling and cinema while maintaining that the literature is the inspiration. There are scenes that celebrate film and the history of it, such as a scene where heading to the theater is done in the fashion of an old silent film. The story of loss and love side by side is something that everyone can understand. David’s journey of self-discovery is one that takes him to unfamiliar and surprising places, but ultimately his determination and resolve brings him to the career of his dreams, writingThe film provides a message of hope and perseverance in the face of adversity, inspiring the audience and leaving a palpable feeling of contagious optimism.

Visually, the world of David Copperfield is brought to life. The costume design is eye-catching and further accentuates these characters and their personalities. The set design and colors in the film are beautifully done to create contrast in the different periods and places in David’s life. The result is a beautiful array of warmth and darkness that would be the background of his life.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is the most surprisingly hilarious and heartwarming film of the year. Full of laughter, loss, and wonder. My heart is so full after seeing it at the Toronto International Film Festival and a fantastic way to finish day one. 

Written by
Ashley Menzel is an avid film lover and lives in Los Angeles, CA. She loves foreign films and dramas and reading books that have film adaptations. Her favorite movie of all time is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. She loves Doctor Who, Supernatural, iZombie, and Grimm.

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