The Personal History of David Copperfield – PG – 119 min
NO SPOILERS Movie Review
Watched in theater Saturday August 29, 2020
Regal 16 Cinemas – Lacey, Washington
#31 new movie seen in theaters in 2020
David Copperfield is at a theater telling his story, and then literally steps back into his story from the moment he was born. Thus begins his painful entry into life with a mother who loves him but marries a cruel man who sends him off to a bottling plant to be abused as child labor (historical note: Dickens’ work was instrumental in helping to abolish the use of young child labor in the times). Along the way, Copperfield captures snippets of life and lesson and perfects the art of the simile.
Writes will love just how many similes are included. It’s like Copperfield walked around looking for witty, wonderful quotes, protecting them like a coin collector would gold.
Characters. By far the strongest part of this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ most personally beloved work comes through are his wide cast of compelling characters. My favorites include the loyal, servant Clara Peggoty, the underhanded, snaky Uriah Heep, the quirky, mental but lovable Mr. Dick and his glorious kites!
Kites with quotes and ideas and dreams flying in the breeze. Mr. Dick must “let them go” for the ideas will fill his head. It’s Mr. Dick who teaches David Copperfield some of the most valuable writing lessons.
If we remove the splendid cast of wild, well-drawn characters and that lovely upside down boat turned house on the beach, the rest of this autobiographical journey is very slow. Sure, there are smatterings of brilliance, but again it’s all character. If that’s the only reason you watch movies, you’ll be in heaven here. Us? We need engaging, entertaining story. What are these characters doing? Where is the conflict? In this case, it’s somewhere buried in the middle, with the slithering actions of Uriah Heep and the haves and have nots.
Starting an autobiographical story at birth might have been fresh in the 1800s but feels hopelessly dated in 2020. I kept wondering how David’s mother would put up with such an unbearable sod as Edward Murdstone, but that’s never really explained. We’re left to ponder that his mother would be turned loose as a “lady” and a life of prostitution in Victorian England times without her suitor? That might have fit the way it was in the times, but it just comes across a weak excuse for marrying into something. Again, we’ve seen this story before. Dickens artfully told the story in his novel, which I barely remember (read it in school so long ago) with so much more color and energy than this movie offers.
The best comparison I can make is Little Women. Look what one director did with a story that’s been told multiple times versus what was done here. The contrast is stark. One kept the story engaging and compelling while the other chose to focus on rapid fire dialogue between characters.
We give this five stars for inventive characters and zero for story. Pacing is zero stars, other than the frenetic speech — why does everybody speak so breathlessly? Dialogue is clever in the beginning, but over the course of the movie becomes tedious. The humor is in the situations, like the absurdity of Mr. Dick’s kite, rather than the delivery. We both enjoyed the characters (myself more than Kara), but at the end of the day, the most interesting people cannot hold a mediocre told tale together.
Our just left the theater video below shares our overall lack of excitement toward the weak, uninspired story. It’s been awhile since seeing a movie with characters being the only thing holding our interest.
Watching this is the cinematic equivalent of visiting a zoo with a bunch of fantastic, cool-looking animals that are all asleep. Not fun to watch. The words kept reverberating in my head, “please do something!” (besides fast talking).
It’s not a good adaptation, other than the characters, which made Dickens brilliant and revered as a writer. The filmmakers understood the appeal of Dickens epic work, but not the priority and overall vital goal: story. A film with parts that are shiny, curious and oddly functional, but the sum a vacant lot, neither entertaining or exciting. Not recommended.
Rating (out of 5 stars): ⭐️½