On stage, David Copperfield (Dev Patel) recounts his life from birth to aspirations of becoming a writer. His carefree countryside youth with his widowed mother Clara (Morfydd Clark) changes after she marries the cruel Mr. Murdstone (Darren Boyd). The new stepfather beats him and eventually sends the boy to work in his London bottle factory. Bad working conditions and news of his mother's death send the young Copperfield escaping back to the country. Living with his wealthy Aunt Betsey (Tilda Swinton) and eccentric distant relative Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie), life improves. But there are many ups and downs before his dream can be realized.

Charles Dickens' novel gets a refreshing cinematic revamp in this lively period piece. Director/writer Armando Iannucci ("The Death of Stalin" and TV documentary "Armando's Tale of Charles Dickens"), with screenplay help from Simon Blackwell, manages to satisfyingly condense the lengthy book. The essence of Copperfield remains and may draw new readers to the author's unforgettable work. An interesting decision to ignore race in casting roles gives this film a more universal appeal. Differences in color within families are forgotten as the talented and diverse cast members deliver brilliant portrayals. Dev Patel is magnetic in the lead role - often breaking the fourth wall while narrating events in his life (Jairaj Varsani and Ranveer Jaiswal ably portray younger versions of David). Hugh Laurie dominates several scenes as the relative who is oddly obsessed with King Charles. Other notables play memorable Dickens characters. Tilda Swinton as controlling Aunt Betsey, Ben Whishaw as the hated Uriah Heep and Peter Capaldi as Mr. Micawber (the generous head of a debt-ridden family that takes David in) are outstanding. The desirable women in Copperfield's life include Agnes (Rosalind Eleazar), daughter of lawyer Mr. Wickfield (Benedict Wong), and Dora (Morfydd Clark - who also portrays Clara Copperfield), daughter of David's boss Mr. Spenlow (Matthew Cottle). Gwendoline Christie appears as Jane Murdstone, the ruthless sister of the domineering stepfather, and Daisy May Cooper is Peggotty, young David's nanny. There are too many characters to keep track of and little time for development of most of them. Details will be left for the audience to discover. Humor is sprinkled throughout. One running gag involves the many nicknames for David. The spectacular cinematography of Zac Nicholson is best viewed on the biggest screen possible and blends well with composer Christopher Willis' enthralling score. "The Personal History of David Copperfield" is a magical twist on a classic tale. (4/5 CAMS)

Rated PG (for thematic material and brief violence)
Running Time: 120 minutes

In select theaters August 28, 2020.

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