Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Personal History of David Copperfield


Armando Iannucci: The Personal History of David Copperfield (GB/US 2019) with Hugh Laurie (Mr. Dick), Ben Whishaw (Uriah Heep), Dev Patel (David Copperfield), Peter Capaldi (Mr. Micawber) and Tilda Swinton (Betsey Trotwood).

David Copperfieldin elämä ja teot / David Copperfields äventyr och iakttagelser.
    GB/US 2019. PC: FilmNation Enterteinment and Film4 present in association with Wishmore Entertainment. P: Armando Iannucci, Kevin Loader.
    D: Armando Iannucci. SC: Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci – based on the novel The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account) (1850) by Charles Dickens – Finnish translations: 1879 (Waldemar Churberg), 1924 (J. A. Hollo), 1971 (Heidi Järvenpää).
    DP: Zac Nicholson. PD: Cristina Casali. Cost: Suzie Harman, Robert Worley. Makeup & hair: Karen Hartley-Thomas. M: Christopher Willis. ED: Mick Audsley, Peter Lambert. Casting: Sarah Crowe.
    Cast listing as edited in Wikipedia:
    Dev Patel as David Copperfield
        Jairaj Varsani as young David Copperfield
    Aneurin Barnard as James Steerforth
    Peter Capaldi as Mr. Micawber
    Morfydd Clark as Dora Spenlow / Clara Copperfield
    Daisy May Cooper as Peggotty
    Rosalind Eleazar as Agnes Wickfield
    Hugh Laurie as Mr. Dick
    Tilda Swinton as Betsey Trotwood
    Ben Whishaw as Uriah Heep
    Paul Whitehouse as Mr. Peggotty
    Benedict Wong as Mr. Wickfield
    Nikki Amuka-Bird as Mrs. Steerforth
    Darren Boyd as Edward Murdstone
    Gwendoline Christie as Jane Murdstone
    Matthew Cottle as Mr Spenlow
    Bronagh Gallagher as Mrs Micawber
    Anthony Welsh as Ham Peggotty
    Aimee Kelly as Emily
    Anna Maxwell Martin as Mrs. Strong
    Victor McGuire as Creakle
    Peter Singh as Tungay
    Ruby Bentall as Janet
    Divian Ladwa as Dr. Chillip
    Rosaleen Linehan as Mrs. Gummidge
    Sophie McShera as Mrs. Crupp
116 min
Festival premiere: 5 Sep 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.
British premiere: 24 Jan 2020.
US premiere: 28 Aug 2020.
Finnish premiere: 18 Sep 2020 – released by Finnkino with Finnish / Swedish subtitles.
    Corona emergency security: 25% capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 9, Helsinki, 31 Oct 2020.

Synopsis from Wikipedia: "The life of David Copperfield is chronicled from his birth to now. David has an idyllic life and is taken to visit the family of his nanny Peggoty (Daisy May Cooper) in their boat house in Yarmouth. When he returns, his young and widowed mother Clara (Morfydd Clark) has married the sinister and cruel Mr. Murdstone (Darren Boyd), who beats the boy. The abused David Copperfield (Dev Patel) is sent to work in Murdstone's factory where he lodges with Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi) and his family, who are pursued by their creditors. After being told of his mother's death and funeral, David escapes from his life of drudgery and finds his wealthy aunt Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton) and her lodger, the eccentric Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie). After troubling problems with Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard) and Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw), Betsey Trotwood finances David's ambition to become a gentleman and author."

AA: I have been recently returning to David Copperfield for several reasons. Last year I edited a book on childhood in the cinema and was intrigued by the theme of the "discovery of childhood" in the modern sense by Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Émile) and 19th century novelists, Charles Dickens most prominently among them.

For the first time there was a whole major trend of fiction with children as protagonists, and David Copperfield's famous opening line is a perfect motto: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show”.

There is a double vision in Dickens's novel. It is a first person narrative in which the "I" is by turns a child and a grown-up writer completing his first novel. We see everything both with the eyes of the child and the author.

Armando Iannucci in his film adaptation includes the storyteller's presence in the tale told. David Copperfield has been a popular subject for films and television series for 110 years, and some of the results have been excellent, my favourites being the 1922 version by A. W. Sandberg and the 1935 adaptation directed by George Cukor (produced by David O. Selznick, adapted by Hugh Walpole and including an unforgettable interpretation by W. C. Fields as Micawber).

Iannucci determinedly distances himself from familiar adaptations and creates something completely different. From Dickens's huge novel he selects aspects that have been downplayed: fantasy, imagination and comedy, so much that his movie sometimes resembles a Tim Burton interpretation of Lewis Carroll.

Perhaps inspired by the "colour blind" Hamilton, Iannucci casts Indian and African-British talents in leading roles instead of the usual palefaces. The Hamilton trend is an interesting ripost to the blackface tradition of Othello et al.

Iannucci's film looks and feels different, but there is one previous adaptation that had a somewhat similar whimsical approach: the very first one, David Copperfield (1911) produced by Thanhouser Company, directed by George O'Nicholls and starring a girl, Flora Foster, as David.

The cast is wonderful in Iannucci's extravaganza, but I feel that Dickens's story is eccentric enough without added spices. To my taste, Dickens's mix of reality and imagination is being slanted a bit too much towards fantasy by Iannucci. A similar fairy-tale trend in adapting classics was also applied by Joe Wright to Anna Karenina and Baz Luhrmann to The Great Gatsby.

The story is classic melodrama with its saga of gross injustice and the reversal of fortune. The melodrama gives a magnificent framework for Dickens and Iannucci to discuss themes of social relevance including child labour, prostitution and emigration.

The resolution that may look like fantasy wish-fulfillment is actually auto-fiction. David Copperfield is the writer's own fictionalized autobiography.

The second reason why I have been reflecting on David Copperfield lately is the fact that it was a / the favourite novel of Leo Tolstoy, and I have written this year an essay on Tolstoy and the cinema, to be published next year in a collection of essays on the Russian master.

The auto-fiction aspect of David Copperfield made it such a favourite of Tolstoy's that he imitated it in his breakthrough work Childhood (1852). Dickens revealed for Tolstoy the power of the novel as a vehicle for double reflection. Later on, during the awakening of his social conscience, Tolstoy again found in Dickens a soulmate (and one of the few writers whom he did not banish in his tractate What Is Art?).




Reinventing a Dickens Classic

"A lifelong fan of Charles Dickens, Armando Iannucci had a creative spark a few years ago while re-reading the author’s acclaimed eighth novel, David Copperfield, which was first published in 1850. “I thought, ‘I want to make this as a movie,’” says Iannucci. “It felt so contemporary, but also because the adaptations I’ve seen are all so serious and centered on the drama and the plot. There is a lot of plot and drama, but to me those are the least interesting things about the story.”

The “hilarious scenes in the book,” says Iannucci (like David getting drunk for the first time) were the most exciting to him to explore. “There are moments of almost slapstick comedy, like when David joins the law firm and has to negotiate his way around the creaking floorboards. And when he falls in love with Dora and imagines seeing her face everywhere, even in the clouds. It’s a very surreal, yet very real book. I wanted to get that across in the movie.”

THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD, his third feature film, wasn’t Iannucci’s first stab at Dickens: In 2012, he wrote and starred in the BBC TV special Armando’s Tale of Charles Dickens, a re-evaluation of the author “without the Victorian seriousness.” And after years spent ingenuously turning dense political narratives into comedic farce via projects such as In the Loop, In the Thick of It and HBO’s Veep, Iannucci turned once again to his frequent collaborator and co-writer Simon Blackwell.

“The modernity of David Copperfield has always been lost [onscreen] the minute people put on their bonnets,” says Blackwell. “It’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. It’s also a very long, just over 600 pages, so when you have to fit it into a film or series, the tendency is to take out the comedy because it doesn’t carry the story. But it’s genuinely funny. You never think, ‘Oh, I can see why that would have been funny in 1850.’ It just is.”

With FilmNation Entertainment on board from the outset as co-financier and sales agent, and Film4 joining as co-financier in the latter stages of development, pre-production got underway as Iannucci and Blackwell finished the script and honed their vision for bringing THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD, and its indelible characters, to life
. "

The Story

" In THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD we hear David narrating his own life story, which opens in Victorian England inside the Rookery housing slums. He is born to Clara (Morfydd Clark), with the help of well-meaning housekeeper Peggotty (Daisy May Cooper) and his eccentric aunt, Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton). David’s early years are happy and peaceful as he spends time with Peggotty’s family in Yarmouth in their unusual home— an upturned boat situated on the beach— where he lives out idyllic summers with Peggotty’s brother Daniel (Paul Whitehouse) and his adopted children, Ham (Anthony Walsh) and Emily (Aimée Kelly).

Upon his return, David discovers that his mother has married Edward Murdstone (Darren Boyd), a cruel man with an equally fearsome sister, Jane (Gwendoline Christie). David and Murdstone quickly begin fighting and David is banished to work at a bottling factory in London where the pay is paltry and the conditions are abhorrent. His only joy comes from lodging with the kind, but poverty-stricken, Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi) and his family.

One day, Murdstone and Jane arrive and coldly reveal to David that his mother has died. Grief-stricken, David flees the factory to see his aunt Betsey, who is now living with her colorful distant cousin Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie). David is then introduced to Mr. Wickfield (Benedict Wong), who acts in matters of finance for Betsey, and his daughter Agnes (Rosalind Eleazar). David attends Mrs. Strong’s school in Canterbury—an effort funded by Wickfield – where he meets fellow students James Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard), who takes a shine to him, and the less trustworthy Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw). At his graduation, David falls for Dora Spenlow (Morfydd Clark), the daughter of his future employer. David returns to London, where he becomes a proctor at Spenlow and Jorkins.

Smitten with Dora, David tries to propose but is interrupted by news that Betsey and Mr. Dick have arrived at his lodgings. The former is now ruined and must now live with David. He suggests the notion of her obtaining a loan from Wicklow, but Uriah – now a partner – denies him the money. David, Betsey and Mr. Dick move together into a small apartment. As a diversion, David takes Steerforth to meet Peggotty and her family at the upside-down boathouse where he spent his summers as a child. Steerforth is immediately taken with Emily and, as the feeling is mutual, the two elope to France.

Back in London, David proposes to Dora, but doubts plague him. He also runs into the Micawbers, now condemned to living on the streets. Mr. Dick lends a hand, stealing Mr. Micawber’s concertina instrument back from the pawn shop. David also encounters Peggotty, who tells him that Ham and Daniel have been looking for Emily all over the country. Meanwhile, Agnes has been observing Uriah at work and is convinced he’s up to no good.

It’s revealed that he has stolen money from Betsey and embezzled funds from Wicklow’s company by forging his signature. David, in a rare moment of violence, punches Uriah. Emily is found and she fights with Steerforth’s mother. She is seeking news of her son, who is set to arrive at Yarmouth by boat, sailing amid a violent storm. Sadly, Steerforth drowns and washes up on the beach. After the tragedy, some time later, David and his friends gather at a garden party. With his adventures permanently recorded, he is now a published author and a man in charge of his own destiny.

No comments: