David Copperfield (1999)

Reviewer: April Wroblewski

Could Charles Dickens have known when he first put ink to paper in the starting of David Copperfield what a classic it would become? Ever since it was first published, it has been a favorite of all ages and is considered by many one of Charles Dickens' finest works. Based upon the history of Dickens' own life (his "unofficial autobiography") it follows the story of a boy who has to overcome many trials into manhood. Ever so popular as a book, movie producers wanting to bank in on the novels success has made many adaptations of the story, this version being one of the newest filmmakers have come up with.


It all starts on the evening in which a baby is being born into the home of a young widowed mother. This baby boy is to be called David Copperfield, after his late father. His aunt, Miss Betsy Trotwood (Maggie Smith), is visiting that evening waiting to be a patron to the child being born, which she is certain will be a girl. For Miss Betsy has a dislike (if it could be called that) of the male gender. On hearing that the child is indeed a boy, Miss Betsy leaves horrified, not wanting anything to do with the boy. But as she leaves the picture the viewer feels certain that they are going to run into her again before all of this is over.  


The boy (Daniel Radcliffe) grows up happy under the care of his mother and maid/nurse, Peggotty. But that happiness does not last long when his mother decides to marry again to a cruel man. Once married, everything in the household changes and a dark cloud is set upon young David's life. His stepfather is cruel, abrasive, and violent. He swiftly manages to bully David's mother into his point of view, along with his sinister sister. Eventually, David is forced to leave home. Sent away by his stepfather to go and attend school in London. At a tender age he is forced to live in the poverty stricken neighborhoods of London and be treated unfairly by vicious characters. His is alone, friendless... for a while. What await him, and the viewer, is a world of memorable characters, from the happy go lucky debtor Micawber (Bob Hoskins), to the sinister Uriah Heaps, and the women who will forever change David's life.


There's adventure, scandal, intrigue, and a hint of mystery, all mingled in a cast of unforgettable circumstances, a blend of humor and satire. David Copperfield is far more complex than I have been able to capture in a summary. In fact, I would say that I have only scratched the surface of the plot. The drawing factor are the many unique and comic characters in the story... Dickens' strange, whimsical characters is part of what defines him. The cast, in this aspect, is magnificent, boasting the faces of numerous well-known British and BBC actors, from the world-renowned Maggie Smith, in what may be one of her finest performances as Betsy Trotwood, to the barely-recognizable Ian McKellen as the stern London schoolmaster. Danielle Radcliffe, best known for his boy wizard Harry Potter films, turns in a particularly touching performance.


The movie is surprisingly clean; in fact, I found it in the children's section of my library next to Anne of Green Gables. I can recall nothing offensive in it. The scenes of the poor section of London and the people there might be frightening for younger children. But honestly, I cannot imagine a young child being able to sit through all of it, I believe it would be too dull for them. There is some mild violence (some men drown in a storm, a child is flogged and abused with sticks), and language. If you are not fond of BBC productions, which are low in budget and can be much slower paced that anything Hollywood puts out, then, chances are that you will not enjoy this version. But, if you are like myself and appreciate the attempts the BBC usually makes to be faithful to a novel, and like to sit down on lazy afternoons to quaint movies, then David Copperfield is worth the watch.

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