The Personal History of David Copperfield Parent Guide
Dickens' novels have remained popular thanks to his original and eccentric characters, who come fully to life in this film.
Parent Movie Review
“What lies before you is a fight with the world and the sooner you begin it the better.” So says the brutal Mr. Murdstone (Darren Boyd) as he sends his young stepson, David Copperfield (Ranveer Jaiswal), off to experience the world of Victorian London in all its Darwinian squalor.
Based on Charles Dickens’ loosely autobiographical novel, David Copperfield, this movie faithfully depicts the resulting struggle although it takes significant liberties with the book’s chronology. David spends his teen years in London laboring in Murdstone’s bottle factory before fleeing to his Aunt Betsy Trotwood’s (Tilda Swinton) for refuge. She’s eccentric but kind-hearted and resolves to care for David (now played by Dev Patel) and make him a gentleman. At boarding school, he becomes acquainted with fellow student Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard) and Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw), both of whom will depress his rising fortunes and those of the people he loves. David will learn repeatedly that what goes up must come down, but he also discovers that fortune’s wheel can turn in his favor if he’s willing to take the necessary risks.
Charles Dickens’ novels have remained popular for close to two hundred years thanks to the original, often peculiar, and unforgettable characters he created. They might verge closer to caricature than character, but that has never stopped them from appealing to readers. Therefore, getting the casting right is critical and director Armando Ianucci has aced it. Miss Murdstone’s (Gwendoline Christie) arid self-righteousness, Mr. Micwaber’s (Peter Capaldi) verbose insolvency, Uriah Heep’s predatory humility, Steerforth’s suave selfishness – all are brought to life on the screen by the talented multiracial cast. My only quibble here is that Ianucci used the same actress (Morfydd Clark) to play both David’s mother and girlfriend which adds an unsettling Freudian slant to the story.
The Personal History of David Copperfield is obviously one of those movies that will become a regular feature of English lit classes, and for good reason. It makes the novel accessible to readers who are unfamiliar with Dickens and it does so with little negative content, aside from plot related alcohol consumption and carefully sanitized violence. This isn’t the kind of film that will trigger angry emails from parents.
Educational benefits aside, this production deserves more than a free spot on the school movie bingo card. It’s worth watching on its own merits, particularly for moviegoers with a penchant for period films or literary classics. It shares Dickens’ embracing love for humanity, his bone-deep commitment to reform, and his compassion for the youngest victims of harsh economic times. And it manages to serve up this giant doorstopper of a novel in two hours, which is a significant achievement of both screenwriting and editing. That said, the best reason to watch it is that it’s fun. There’s a zest for life, a determination to succeed, and a tolerant smile over human foibles that energize the film and give it what all good stories need – a sense of humanity.Directed by Armando Iannucci. Starring Dev Patel, Hugh Laurie, and Tilda Swinton . Running time: 119 minutes. Theatrical release November 17, 2020. Updated November 17, 2020
Watch the trailer for The Personal History of David Copperfield
The Personal History of David Copperfield
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Personal History of David Copperfield rated PG? The Personal History of David Copperfield is rated PG by the MPAA for thematic material and brief violence.
Violence: A woman and child are emotionally abused by a man. A man puts a child in a chokehold; the child bites him. A man talks about beating animals until they lose all their blood. A man pushes a child. A man is heard beating a child. A man threatens to “end it” and mimes cutting his own throat with a razor. His wife tries to grab the razor to die with him. A man’s children are seized and he’s sent to debtor’s prison. A man is told his mother is dead. An angry man pushes over tables covered in bottles. A woman attacks people and donkeys for trespassing. There is a discussion about the beheading of King Charles I. An imaginary scene has a woman’s hand caught in factory equipment. Men box; one is seen dripping blood. There is mention of a child throwing a hammer at this mother, leaving a scar. A man and woman slap each other. There is mention of past spousal abuse. A man is washed overboard in a storm; his body is seen on the beach.
Sexual Content: A man and woman kiss.
Profanity: None noted.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A man requests alcohol and seems desperate until he gets some. A man hands alcohol to another; we don’t see them drink it. Characters drink heavily and become intoxicated. An alcoholic character is manipulated by another person.
Page last updated November 17, 2020
The Personal History of David Copperfield Parents' Guide
Uriah Heep says he’s “humble”. What does “humble” mean? Do you think Uriah is really humble? What other words would you use to describe him? Why do you think he wants to be seen as humble? Have you ever seen people describe themselves inaccurately? How can we see ourselves clearly?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
David Copperfield was one of Charles Dickens’ favorite novels. Another of his stories, Oliver Twist, also follows the adventures of an orphaned boy who falls on hard times. Great Expectations is about an orphan who learns he has a wealthy patron and who stumbles along his quest to become a gentleman.
Related home video titles:
If you love the story and want a longer version that’s able to include more material from the novel, you can watch the 1999 TV miniseries which stars Daniel Radcliffe.
Another one of Dicken’s orphans takes to the big screen in Oliver Twist, in which the titular orphan falls into the hands of the terrifying Fagin and his gang of thieves. Nicholas Nickleby features a young man, fatherless and impoverished, who must find a way to support both himself and his sister. For more movies about the economic deprivation of the era, you can watch Les Miserables, adapted from the work of French author Victor Hugo.
Charles Dickens’ most well known work is A Christmas Carol which has been adapted numerous times for the big screen. Mickey’s Christmas Carol and The Muppet Christmas Carol are geared towards young viewers but will still make adults smile. Disney’s A Christmas Carol computer generates the actors. The 1951 adaptation of the story stars Alistair Sim.
The life of Charles Dickens has also been the subject of movies. The Man Who Invented Christmas focuses on the months he spent writing his classic novella. His marital troubles are the core of The Invisible Woman, the story of his relationship with his mistress.