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Personal History of David Copperfield, The


Stars: Dev Patel, Peter Capaldi, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw, Benedict Wong, Rosalind Eleazar, Morfydd Clark, Darren Boyd, Bronagh Gallagher, Anthony Welsh, Sophie McShera, Anna Maxwell Martin, Matthew Cottle, Nikki Amuka-Bird

Director: Armando Iannucci

For all those worried by the lack of ethnic diversity in this year's BAFTA and Oscar nominations, director Iannucci has done his best to redress the balance by casting black, brown and Asian actors in key roles in his version of Charlie Dickens' hoary old tale of the young man who moves backwards and forwards between rags and riches.

If it were just Patel in the title role, very well supported by Ranveer Jaiswal as his much-younger self, Iannucci might have just got away with this bizarre idea. But, with Mr Wickfield portrayed as a Chinese drunkard with a black daughter, the ethnic quirk remains a disquieting influence throughout - a filmic variation on the elephant in the room.

One cast member, Clark, plays two roles, but since she's so bland as David's mother, one hardly notices. And frankly, despite enthusiastic performances from Patel, Swinton (Betsey Trotwood), Capaldi (Micawber) and others, the first hour of the film is a trudging bore.

The second half picks up the pace, and is certainly superior to its predecessor, if a little rushed. Whishaw's previously anodyne Uriah Heep comes into his unctuous own, while the dialogue stings rather than stodges.

An interesting experiment, then, but sadly no more than that.

David Quinlan

UK 2019. UK Distributor: LionsGate. Colour by Panalux.
119 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 19 Jan 2020