The trailer for Armando Ianucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, an adaptation of Dickens’ most personal novel, has been released following the film’s opening at the London BFI Film Festival earlier this month. Ianucci, renowned for his use of satire and dark wit (his previous work including The Death of Stalin and political farce series The Thick of It), may not seem the conventional choice for a Dickens adaptation. However, the trailer makes clear that his comedic talents have been put to good use.
The trailer takes us on a frantic journey through Copperfield’s life, his quirky companions, and evolving taste in suits. Made up of snapshots of increasingly absurd situations (picture the chaos of a Victorian factory, Hugh Laurie wielding a giant paper kite, and Tilda Swinton kicking a donkey) it is hard to imagine how these fragments will come together coherently in a single film; yet I have no doubt that they will do so with great effect.
The use of colour-blind casting is striking, with the integration of diversity into a Victorian narrative being particularly refreshing. Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel stars as the eponymous lead, and there is an easy equilibrium between his ever earnest, intense likeability and the eccentric characters he finds himself surrounded by, the most notable of which being Tilda Swinton’s outlandishly comical Aunt Betsey.
The Personal History of David Copperfield promises to be an invigorating contrast to the often dreary literary adaptations that are regularly churned out. It smartly combines crowd-pleasing slapstick with a more highbrow humour, without needing to digress from Dickens’ original narrative. In a BBC interview back in 2012, Ianucci spoke of how he wanted “to show that the work of Charles Dickens isn’t just quality entertainment for a long-dead audience”, and if the full length film lives up to the expectations set by its raucous trailer then he will have certainly achieved this. Unfortunately, we will just have to wait in anticipation until the release date in 2020.
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