The Personal History of David Copperfield

Movie review by
Danny Brogan, Common Sense Media
The Personal History of David Copperfield Movie Poster Image
 Parents recommend
Dickens' classic retold with comedic style; some violence.
  • PG
  • 2020
  • 119 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Central to the story is transition from childhood to mature adult. Other themes include generosity, family, friendship, loyalty, recognizing the important things in life. The biggest acts of generosity are often shown by those least well-off. Some characters put great importance on bettering themselves -- sometimes by immoral or illegal means. Compassion, perseverance, empathy are themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

David is articulate, quick-witted, mostly kind. Occasionally he -- along with other characters -- behaves snobbishly. Throughout his story he learns what's really important in life, returning kindness he has been shown. The poorer characters are often the ones who show the greatest generosity. Much of the cast are people of color.

Violence

Some violence, but most is played for laughs. Confrontation between child and stepparent: Child is pushed onto floor before biting stepparent; it's then implied that the child is beaten. A character grabs a razor, talks about ending their own life. During a storm, a character drowns: dead body seen on shore. A character pushes someone off a donkey before kicking the animal. Two characters fight, resulting in some blood. In one presented-as-comedic scene, a child's head is repeatedly hit against a sign. A child is told of their mother's death and in grief smashes up wine-bottling factory. Hand trapped in a vice. Two characters exchanges slaps before a third punches one of them to the floor.

Sex

Two characters briefly kiss on the lips.

Language

No profanity, but some cruel language is used.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters regularly drink beer and wine. A character appears to have a drinking problem; attempts are made to try to keep that character away from alcohol, largely without success. A group of friends gets drunk on wine and then behaves boisterously. A character is seen holding a pipe.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Personal History of David Copperfield is a brilliantly funny retelling of the classic Charles Dickens novel. Though the movie is largely comedic, there are moments of violence -- although even they are often played for laughs. In one scene, a young David Copperfield (Ranveer Jaiswal) is beaten by his stepfather, Mr. Murdstone (Darren Boyd) -- a character whose cruelty extends to informing Copperfield of his mother's death only after her funeral. In another scene, Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton) and Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw) repeatedly slap each other across the face before an older Copperfield (Dev Patel) punches Heep to the floor. While at sea during a vicious storm, a character falls from his boat and drowns. His body is seen laid out on the shore. There's some depiction of being unhoused, with Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi) and his family evicted from their home. Characters drink regularly, and Mr. Wickfield (Benedict Wong) is portrayed as being dependent on alcohol. Director Armando Iannucci's "color blind" approach to casting means that this take on the classic story is far more diverse than those that have come before. Several characters aspire to climb in social class, which sometimes leads to them acting deceitfully -- and, in one case, illegally. But the overall messages are of generosity, friendship, family, and recognizing what's really important in life.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 13-year-old Written bychathamsq April 3, 2021
Adult Written bysethkimball February 26, 2021
Gripping story, fabulous acting and my family loved the comedic additions.
Kid, 12 years old August 17, 2020

A bit random and boring...

This was a great movie but it is quite long and a bit boring. The story didn't really tie together either as the main character (David) goes from rich to p... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byAndyfaraz January 28, 2021

Boring

This movie was so boring, I watched it with y mom and I fell asleep at the first second of the movie, so disappointing

What's the story?

In THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD, David Copperfield (Dev Patel) takes a look back at his life and asks whether he really was "the hero of his own story." Told through a series of flashbacks, the movie follows Copperfield as he navigates his way through tragedy, wealth, poverty, good, and evil in order to get the answer he seeks.

Is it any good?

From start to finish, this retelling of Charles Dickens' classic novel is a delight. "Colorful" and "laugh-out-loud funny" aren't terms immediately associated with Dickens' original story. But with Veep creator Armando Iannucci at the helm, it's perhaps not surprising that The Personal History of David Copperfield serves up all of this and more. From the waistcoats to the dresses, from the English countryside to the cast -- Iannucci used a color-blind process in hiring his actors -- there's a vibrancy to the movie that intensifies with each passing moment. Scenes whimsically merge into one another: The movie starts with Copperfield on stage before he steps though a painted backdrop into the very moment he's born. In less capable hands, this creative license could prove, at best, distracting. But under Iannucci's direction, it only adds to the magic.

The aforementioned cast members are all superb. Patel has never been better, while Ben Whishaw's creepy Uriah Heep is tonal perfection. But it's Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie as Betsey Trotwood and Mr. Dick, respectively, who get the biggest laughs. (Though former Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi runs them a close second as the lovable, down-on-his luck Mr. Micawber, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Alice in Wonderland's Mad Hatter.) Purists may wince at the lighter mood the movie takes; it also has a more frenetic pace than the book. But this is a retelling of a story that's moved with the times. And one that even the great Dickens himself would surely admire.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the casting in The Personal History of David Copperfield. How does having a diverse cast impact the story? Why is representation in media important?

  • Discuss the violence in the movie. Did it feel realistic? Did that impact how you felt about it?

  • David Copperfield learns a number of life lessons throughout the movie. What are they? How might they apply to real life?

  • How did the movie compare to the original novel by Charles Dickens? Discuss the pros and cons of movies based on books.

  • How do the characters demonstrate compassion, empathy, and perseverance?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

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