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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.
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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.
- In theaters: August 28, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: November 17, 2020
- Cast: Dev Patel, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton
- Director: Armando Iannucci
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Book Characters
- Character strengths: Compassion, Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 119 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic material and brief violence
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: April 3, 2021
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