Film FestivalsMovie ReviewsTIFF 2019: The Personal History of David Copperfield Review

Keith NoakesSeptember 7, 201975/100
Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie
Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell
Armando Iannucci
Running Time
119 minutes
Release Date
Overall Score
Rating Summary
The Personal History Of David Copperfield is a near-seamless current adaptation of the Dickens story with a sharp script and perfect cast led by an exceptional lead performance from Dev Patel.

This will be one of many reviews during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, to keep up with our latest coverage, click here.

The works of Charles Dickens are timeless but are also quite a lot to digest. David Copperfield is arguably one of his most well-known works and has been adapted on countless occasions across both movies and television. Now, thanks to writer and director Armando Iannucci, The Personal History of David Copperfield, takes that story and presents it in a more digestible form though this adaptation wasn’t quite seamless. It takes what easily could have been a boring period costume drama and modernizes it while approaching it in a witty, comedic fashion (which should not come as much of a surprise for Iannucci fans) with the same deeper themes.

Those familiar with the source material (so not me), should more or less already know what happens within The Personal History of David Copperfield but this film smartly stands on its own so reading the source material isn’t necessary to enjoy the film. For those who need a refresher, the film was about a man named David Copperfield (Patel) who lived a tumultuous life that went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows while encountering a colorful cast of characters helping him along the way in what would be a coming of age story of sorts as we followed Copperfield from a young boy to a man. While his journey may have seemed bleak at times, the film chose to take a more hopeful approach thanks to some sharp comedy that works more often than not. However, the film would face lulls as it attempted to reconcile its surplus of characters and their subplots.

Ultimately, the best part of The Personal History of David Copperfield was its performances as they kept things entertaining to watch. Everyone was great here but most importantly, the film would not have worked if not for Patel’s superb lead performance as Copperfield. His showed tremendous range in handling what was thrown at him and his energy was the life force of the film. Along with Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, and Peter Capaldi also delivered standout comedic performances.

In the end, The Personal History of David Copperfield was an accessible Dickens tale for a non-Dickens audience which won’t convert all audiences but was still a fun time.

*still courtesy of FilmNation Entertainment*

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