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Movie review: In 'Copperfield,' Iannucci brings Dickens to life
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Movie review

Movie review: In 'Copperfield,' Iannucci brings Dickens to life

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Review: In 'Copperfield,' Iannucci brings Dickens to life

The cast of “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” including Hugh Laurie (left) and Dev Patel, elevates the vibrancy of the whimsical Victorian costume drama.

It’s not hard to draw a straight line from Charles Dickens to Armando Iannucci. In each there’s a passion for human frailty and absurdity, and, above all, a richness of people. Nobody filled pages with a vivid cast of characters like Dickens, so who better to take a shot at “David Copperfield” than the man behind the teeming ensembles of “Veep,” “In the Loop” and “The Death of Stalin”?

Iannucci has turned to Dickens’ most quintessential and autobiographical novel with the same zeal he previously reserved for political parody. “The Personal History of David Copperfield” is one of the more lively, colorful and whimsical Victorian costume dramas you’re likely to see.

Iannucci, famed for his improvisational style and expletive-laden barrages, clearly finds in Dickens a writer simpatico in fondness for language and taste for multitudes. In many ways, they make a good match, with Iannucci’s more anarchic, free-wheeling style animating the wit and idiosyncrasies of Dickens’ tome.

And just as in the absurdly deep bench of “Veep,” casting has made a difference. Dev Patel winningly plays Copperfield, once out of childhood (as a boy, he’s played by Jairaj Varsani and Ranveer Jaiswal), with wide-eyed wonder, always alive to the world around him, if generally rather mystified by it.

Still, the film belongs largely to the overall cast, including Tilda Swinton, as David’s aunt Betsey Trotwood; Hugh Laurie as the mentally ill, King Charles I-obsessed Mr. Dick; Peter Capaldi as the creditor-evading Wilkins Micawber; Rosalind Eleazar as the romantic interest Agnes Wickfield; Benedict Wong as the wine-swilling Mr. Wickfield; Ben Whishaw as the plotting Uriah Heep.

But while “The Personal History of David Copperfield” keeps a restless, brisk pace as it rushes through Copperfield’s life, Iannucci and co-writer Simon Blackwell arrange the film in such distinct chapters that the movie feels more like a litany of scenes than the dramatic evolution of a young man.

You come away appreciating certain bits rather than feeling the sweep of a story.

Nevertheless, we should all probably happily take a Dickens adaptation that risks being too funny, too zany, too sentimental.

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