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Movie Review: 'The Personal History Of David Copperfield' Is A Welcome Surprise

Americans are most likely to know Scottish director and writer Armando Iannucci as the creator of the HBO show ‘Veep,’ which was very good, but nothing compared to the work he did on his BBC series ‘The Thick of It’ and the related film In the Loop. Those latter two are astonishingly profane and overwhelmingly funny—while you’re laughing at one joke you’re likely to miss three more, the words come so hard and fast.


All of this work, and his 2017 film The Death of Stalin, deal with powerful figures pulling political levers to benefit only themselves, and it’s not likely I could even play you a five-second clip that wouldn’t be made up entirely of bleeps. So what was I to expect from Iannucci’s newest, The Personal History of David Copperfield, an adaptation of the Dickens classic?


I braced for irreverence and gutting sarcasm to warp this beloved story, but instead what burst forth was… humanity, joy, and kindness. Iannucci usually surprises us with hilarious brutality, but here he surprises by going the complete opposite direction, looking at the world not with a jaundiced eye, but with compassion. He revels in the idiosyncrasies of Dickens’ characters, loving them as they are, and telling David’s story with vibrant, giddy excitement, a gloriously diverse cast, and a brisk pace that removes any stodginess we might expect from Victorian England. There’s not a bit of cynicism to be found.


Now—at the moment, the only way most Americans will be able to see the movie is at an actual movie theater. You can get the disc if you have a region-free player, but the originally announced video-on-demand date has come and gone, so my best advice is to keep an eye out for when it finally pops up for streaming rental, which could be any day. But watch it when you can, because The Personal History of David Copperfield is one of the most welcome surprises in ages.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.