The Personal History of David Copperfield

Disney is trying to push old stock in a pandemic with reopened movie theaters showing The Personal History of David Copperfield, which ended up on a shelf after the company purchased Fox Searchlight. You can’t blame the company for having no idea how to handle this disappointing adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel from director Armando Iannucci – who’s had great fun with recent history in comedies like The Death of Stalin and In the Loop. The film’s certainly a failure as a comedy, and even manages to ruin some of Dickens’ funniest writing. The script’s own attempts to cram in dry absurdist humor simply play as anachronisms that don’t even matter amidst the color-blind casting. (Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel has the role of the titular Anglo hero.) It’s like getting stuck in English class with 14-year-old Seth Rogen sitting behind you and whispering clever comments. The high concept never really gels until the very end, as one of Dickens’ funniest deaths is played totally straight. There could have been some social relevance behind the casting. Instead, the two-hour sprawl is just meant to be the kind of surreal high camp that Ken Russell managed with Lisztomania and Valentino. Russell, however, would have had the decency to liven up Copperfield with some rock ‘n roll. Uriah Heep doesn’t count.