A Review of The Personal History of David Copperfield

Before I get to the review — let me first mention the whole experience. I haven’t been to a movie in so long I can’t remember what the last one I saw was? I’ve seen several at home, on demand, streaming, etcetera etcetera etcetera but not at the theater.

They’ve been closed. Boarded up. Not open.

But now they are open again. We ventured out yesterday, Labor Day, and watched The Personal History of David Copperfield. Our party of six were the only ones in the theater, felt like a private screening. We did not buy snacks, and I kept my mask on the whole time.

I was unsure of going because I have been super cautious. Had the theater been crowded I probably would have felt differently, but with just us, there was no real danger at all. Now to the movie:

I loved it. I have to admit some of my love may have been the sheer giddiness of being in a movie theater again, but I think I am able to separate those emotions. I loved the movie.

Hugh Laurie, Dev Patel, and Tilda Swinson–DONKEYS!

David Copperfield is my favorite Dickens book, and I was very afraid they would mess it up. It is a long book filled with marvelous characters that have complicated relationships. The movie compresses a lot of this, for understandable reasons, but it perfectly captures the spirit of the book. Yes, they truncated Clara and really didn’t make Uriah Heep as awful as he was in the novel, but the feel of the book is there. Actually, none of the bad guys are as bad as they are in novel — not his stepfather, not his step-aunt Mrs. Murdstone, and not Steerforth, either. The movie softens all of those a bit. Perhaps that is because Dickens is so brutal.

My favorite part of the novel was the house with David’s Aunt, Mr. Dick, Janet, and the donkeys. I still remember laughing out loud when reading those parts and having Aunt Betsey shout, “What the Deuce?” Janet is reduced to mere ‘servant’ in the movie, but the feeling of that house is spot on. Mr. Dick, portrayed by Hugh Laurie, should be nominated for best supporting actor. He is amazing, as is Peter Capaldi as Mr. Micawber.

A decision was made to cast the movie completely multicultural regardless of part. All of those white British people being played by people of color who have white children or visa versa is refreshing. That is a choice that fits Dickens zeitgeist of social justice and calling into light the problems of the day. I adored Dev Patel’s performance as David. He seemed perfect for that role (as he seemed to be for Saroo in Lion — a movie that didn’t get proper respect, IMHO).

The movie is rated PG and is really safe for the whole family. I would like to see it nominated for best picture.


Saturday it rained cats and dogs.  Not being able to enjoy the outdoors, we decided to see a film.  A friend was visiting us with her two children–9 and 11 years old–so we needed a family friendly film to watch.  We settled on Tomorrowland, because, well, science fiction and we we like Tomorrowland at Disneyland.

I don't think this scene is in the movie
I don’t think this scene is in the movie


I was prepared to not like this movie, because George Clooney is in it, and from the previews I’d seen it looked like a revamp of Spy Kids.  Please, not another Spy Kids.  My trepidation was unjustified, because I really enjoyed the movie!

The acting was outstanding, except for the disappointing Hugh Laurie.  He really did just mail it in.  The little girl who played Athena, Raffey Cassidy, steals the show.  Clooney and Britt Robertson also turn in very solid performances.

More than the acting, though, I liked the “Retro Sci-Fi” feel (Click here for my take on Retro Sci-Fi) of the movie.  Rockets, jetpacks, robots and hidden dimensions all wave their hand in tribute to science fiction that wasn’t just about space and and aliens.  Not that there is anything wrong with space and aliens, but science fiction used to be more than that, and this movie reminds us of it.  Bradbury and Asimov would be pleased, I think, with the effort.

I also liked that, in general, the movie was family friendly.  True, Clooney is so profane that he just can’t help throwing out a swear word or two, but those are minimized and not that strong.  The movie was appropriate for the 9 and 11 year old audience.


Having given the movie these praises, it is far from a great film.  My first complaint is that the movie turns is a wee bit too preachy.  A little snappier screenplay and dialogue writing and we could have gotten the same message without the sermon.  I am not against the message of hope in the film, but the delivery of the message was less than fantastic.

The real problem, though, is the hero confusion.  The movie can’t quite seem to figure out who is the focus–is it Casey Newton (the teenage girl) or Frank Walker (the bitter old man).  Either way, neither story is developed enough.  We are left with huge gaps in Walkers life–like he went form being a child to a bitter old man overnight, and Casey’s character is equally enigmatic.  I couldn’t tell if she should be grounded or given a medal.

Last complaint–I promise.  The beginning and ending of the movie is terrible.  Clunky is not even a good word for it.  If director Brad Bird (Who made The Incredibles, which I love!) had lopped off the forced and contrived beginning and the unsatisfactory ending the movie would have been far better.


Even with these flaws, it is a good movie you can watch with your older children.  It will also give you something to talk about over dinner.  Go see it, and let me know if you liked it or not.

image from sciencefiction.com