The latest film from Armando Iannucci takes on the semi-autobiographical Dickensian tale, as told by its literary protagonist (Dev Patel). In a whistlestop tour of Copperfield’s life we meet the eclectic characters who shaped him.
The film rests on the not inconsiderable talents of its formidable cast in bringing these larger-than-life characters to the screen. Peter Capaldi and Hugh Laurie play a pair of bumbling Victorian gents, Tilda Swinton the plucky Mrs Trotwood, and Ben Whishaw the slimy Uriah Heep, with an assured performance from Patel at its core.
As in The Death of Stalin Iannucci shows an astounding ability to create an authentic historical world on a limited budget ($15.6m), with a visual quality to rival Mr Turner. But it’s marginally less funny, with only occasional humorous moments which feel short of what you should expect from a renowned satirist.
The Dickensian hallmarks are clearly present, from abusive elders to the rags-to-riches tale. But in the high-speed locomotive tour of people and places, the actual story is rather lost as it muddles along, meaning it’s never quite clear what all this film making excellence is in service of. As a result it has charm and character, but lacks real substance.