Review for The Personal History of David Copperfield
When I think about it, I don’t have too many adaptations of classic literature in my home cinema collection. That raises the question as to just how qualified I am to review those adaptations if I’ve never seen another version (classic novels tend to get made and remade by each generation of filmmakers) or indeed have never read the original source novel. David Copperfield has been adapted to the screen, small and large at least 13 times according to Wikipedia, although it will probably be more even than that. So I can’t talk about how faithful it is to the original text, what ways it differs from the previous adaptations of the story, and what new ideas it brings to the screen, although when it was released in 2019, The Personal History of David Copperfield made an impact with its choice of colour-blind casting. Ultimately, it boils down to just how entertaining this film is by itself, without all of that baggage, the least you can ask of any piece of entertainment.
David Copperfield relates the tale of his eventful life, from infancy to adulthood. He was born six months after the death of his father, to a loving mother, and raised by her and their maid Peggotty, his childhood was idyllic. All of that changed when his mother remarried, and an uncaring stepfather sent him off to London to be ‘educated’ in a bottle factory. David’s life unfolds in a series of adventures, with a gallery of colourful characters that come and go, into and out of his life, as his star ascends and wanes with good and ill fortune, through love, loss and success. And along the way, David finds that he has an affinity for the written word.
The Personal History of David Copperfield gets a 2.39:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and DTS-HD MA 2.0 English Audio Descriptive, with optional English subtitles. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are excellent, and the bright, rich colours do much to bring across the film’s delightful costume and production design. It seems to be a digitally shot film, and there is a slight issue with darker scenes and blacks not quite being black enough. It may have a Victorian setting, but this isn’t your typical dreary, fog shrouded downbeat Dickens adaptation. There is a brightness and joie-de-vivre that feeds through to the storytelling and the performances as well. You can’t get away from the era though, as there is a contrast between destitution and beauty that can be quite striking. The dialogue is clear throughout, and the surrounds are effective in bringing across a delightfully individual music score.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray case, wrapped in an o-card slipcover. There is a digital code with the film, which the case blurb states as having expired in 2020. The disc boots to an animated menu.
The extras are presented in 1080i 50Hz.
The Making of The Personal History of David Copperfield lasts 7:48.
I really enjoyed The Personal History of David Copperfield. It’s rare that I’m glued to a film, grin on my face for the duration, especially in a genre with which I’m not particularly au fait, but the sheer joy and energy of the film just won me over from the first scene, where an eccentric aunt attends the birth of her sister-in-law’s child with eager anticipation, only to be utterly disappointed at the advent of a baby boy and not the niece she desired. Some might think that the colour-blind casting might be an issue, with genetics and familial heredity forgotten when casting members of the same family; let alone a cosmopolitan cast not matching established clichés of Victorian populations, but that is quickly rendered meaningless in the face of the film’s fairy tale theatricality and vivid and broad performances. These are characters that fill the screen with effervescent personalities and delightful eccentricities. David Copperfield is not a film you watch if you want nuance and subtlety.
It’s also joyously funny with it. David Copperfield has a hard life growing up, facing trials and tribulations that would humble a lesser man, cruelty and loss, betrayal and poverty, and he’s not alone in having to deal with the harsh realities of life in Victorian England. But the film always makes sure to balance these lows with commensurate highs, and David early on receives the example of his one-time landlord Micawber, a man who retains an eternal optimism despite what the world throws at him, and who imparts that optimism to his family and to David in turn.
The story unfolds at a pace, and some might complain that two hours isn’t enough to tell such a tale, and naturally liberties are taken with the original text to adapt it to the screen. The film sets the framework of a storyteller at work from the opening scene, as David Copperfield appears on stage to tell his tale, and starts by walking off the stage into the past, leading the audience to the moment of his birth. This sets the film’s style, with plenty of imaginative scene transitions, where a wall might suddenly turn into a curtain to walk through. But the film never loses touch with its prominent characters, and the story that it wants to tell.
What really sticks with me is just how colourful and vital the film is. It shimmers with energy, and it’s filled with a cast of memorable and eccentric characters; both protagonists and antagonists. I can’t recall being as enthused while watching a film in quite a while, certainly not one in this genre or period. Most period films and TV adaptations I have seen tend to be stuck in the period they are set in, almost like an artefact dug up from an archaeological site, but this film feels alive and of the present. The Blu-ray presentation is solid, with a decent image and strong audio, although the extras are somewhat lacking. The Personal History of David Copperfield is well worth a watch.