The Personal History of David Copperfield

Posted on August 27, 2020 at 5:51 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic material and brief violence
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and alcoholism, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Brief violence including a fight scene and some abuse, sad offscreen death of a parent
Diversity Issues: Race-blind casting
Date Released to Theaters: August 28, 2020

Copyright 2019 FilmNation Entertainment
There is no higher praise than to say that Armando Iannucci (“In the Loop,” “Veep”) has adapted the book Charles Dickens said was his favorite of all the novels he had written, the book closest to his own history, in a manner as jubilant and shrewdly observed, as touching, as romantic, as exciting, as the novel itself.

For those who made not be familiar with the story: David Copperfield is a Bildungsroman that begins with the birth of the title character to Clara, a sweet but naive weak-natured young widow (played by Morfydd Clark, who also plays David’s first love, Dora). They have a blissful life together until she marries the stern and cruel Mr. Murdstone (Darren Boyd), who, with his equally formidable sister (Gwendolyn Christie), takes over the household.

Murdstone sends David to work in a bottle factory, where he lodges with the impecunious Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi). Years later, he runs away to his only relative, the formidable Miss Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton), who lives with a kind-hearted but rather vague man named Mr. Dick, who struggles with intrusive thoughts about King Charles I.

Miss Betsey sends David to school, where he meets the indolent Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard of “Dunkirk”) and is befriended by Agnes (Rosalind Eleazar). After graduation he goes to work for Mr. Spenlow, and is immediately overwhelmed with love for his daughter, Dora. During all of these adventures and more David changes names and positions in society several times, and the concerns he and others have about their status in society is a recurring theme.

David Copperfield is one of my favorite books of all time, and I well understand it would take a trilogy as ambitious as “Lord of the Rings” to fully do justice to all of its characters and events. But even I had to admit that it has been judiciously pruned (the characters of Rosa Dartle and Mrs. Steerforth have been combined, no Barkis or Miss Mowcher, Tommy Traddles only mentioned, etc.). I strongly concur with dropping the “Little” from Emily’s name, and quickly got used to the idea that she was nearly an adult when David was a child. And I even applauded some happier resolutions for some of the characters. After 170 years, they deserve it.

And the cast! Not since the grand 1935 MGM version with Freddie Bartholomew as young David, Lionel Barrymore as Daniel Peggoty, Edna May Oliver as Aunt Betsey Trotwood, and Basil Rathbone as Mr. Murdstone (no one has ever been as good at naming characters as Charles Dickens), has there been such fitting richness of acting talent. Iannucci’s decision to use race-blind casting, without regard to the genetic realism of biological connections only adds to the universality and ample bounty that is fitting for Dickens, who populated his works with more vivid and varied characters per page than any other author in the English language.

Dev Patel is a superb choice for David, who is thoughtful, open-hearted, and innocent but with a strong core of honor and optimism. We first see David, like the real-life Dickens who went on very popular speaking tours, reading the book’s famous opening line on stage before an appreciative audience. “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” That framing, that self-awareness is fitting for an authorial voice that opens a book by challenging us to make up our own minds about what is to come. Iannucci’s theatricality and gift for telling stories cinematically shimmers through the film, with occasional images projected onto a wall, a hand reaching down into a model of the set, Patel talking to his younger self, played by Ranveer Jaiswal.

Class as it is perceived and as it is in reality is a theme of the film, but so is story-telling itself. Mr. Dick struggles to tell his story without reference to Charles I, and David comes up with an ingenious way to help him. Even as a young child, David wrote down memorable turns of phrase he heard on scraps of paper. His realization that those pieces of paper and pieces of memories are the basis for understanding his past, his purpose, and his future is a deeply satisfying answer to the question he poses at the beginning.

Parents should know that this film includes some tense and sad moments including an abusive stepfather and the offscreen death of a parent. There are financial reversals, confrontations (one fistfight), and a character embezzles.

Family discussion: Is David the hero of the story? Why is it so important to him to be considered a gentleman?

If you like this, try: The MGM version and the book, as as well as other film adaptations of Dickens books including the David Lean “Great Expectations” and the many, many versions of “A Christmas Carol” and a film about the writing of “A Christmas Carol” with Dan Stevens as Dickens, “The Man Who Invented Christmas.”

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Paddington

Posted on April 15, 2015 at 5:55 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and mostly comic violence, offscreen death
Diversity Issues: A metaphoric theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: January 16, 2015
Copyright 2014 StudioCanal
Copyright 2014 StudioCanal

Michael Bond’s gentle, charming stories about the Peruvian bear named for a London train station has been brought to the screen with almost as much gentle charm as the stories, and certainly far more than the slapsticky trailer suggested.

A generation ago, a British explorer named Montgomery Clyde (Tim Downie) was rescued by a rare breed of bears in Peru. He lived with two of them, Pastuzo (Michael Gambon) and Lucy (Imelda Staunton), teaching them some English, including the 107 ways to describe rain that Londoners like to use, and introducing them to the pleasures of orange marmalade. When he said goodbye, he assured them of a warm welcome if they ever came to London bestowed his red hat on Pastuzo.

Pastuzo and Lucy raised their nephew (Ben Wishaw), teaching him all they had learned from Clyde, developing their own artisanal marmalade recipe, and enchanting him with tales about the far-off land called London where their friend would be happy to welcome him. When Pastuzo is killed, Lucy moves to a home for retired bears and the young cub stows away on a freighter bound for London, wearing the red hat and carrying a suitcase filled with jars of marmalade.

At Paddington Station, he meets the Brown family. Risk-averse Mr. Brown (“Downton Abbey’s” Hugh Bonneville) does not want to have anything to do with him, but warm-hearted and spontaneous Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins) invites him home, naming him for the train station where they met. The Browns have two children, Judy (Madeleine Harris), a teenage daughter who never takes out her earbuds, and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), a budding inventor.

As soon as they get home, the extra-prudent Mr. Brown calls his insurance company to extend the protection of his homeowner’s policy, but it is not fast enough. Paddington’s first encounter with a bathroom ends in catastrophe. Mr. Brown is horrified. But Mrs. Brown is sympathetic, and Judy and Jonathan are delighted. A little chaos can be a good thing. And learning to enjoy the differences we encounter in others is a very, very good thing.

As the Browns warm to Paddington, their neighbor, Mr. Curry (“Doctor Who’s” Peter Capaldi) has only one pleasure — having something new to complain about. And there is a more sinister villain as well. A taxidermist at the natural history museum named Millicent (Nicole Kidman, who also co-produced the film) wants Paddington so she can kill him, stuff him, and put him on display. “Is he endangered?” asks one of the museum staff. Millicent narrows her eyes, channeling Cruella De Vil. “He is now.”

The advertising for the film regrettably focuses on the slapstick and gross-out jokes (Paddington thinks Mr. Brown’s toothbrush is for cleaning out his ears). Thankfully, as a whole the film is true to the gentle humor and sweetness of the books. Wishow perfectly captures Paddington’s innocent friendliness and Bonneville and Hawkins are just right as the couple who only need a slight adjustment to reconnect with each other and their children. A brief flashback showing why Mr. Brown became so worried about safety will be appreciated by the children and parents in the audience, and even Millicent’s motives are revealed to be less about evil than about her feelings of hurt and loss. Paddington remains a most welcome visitor, and I hope we see more of him.

Parents should know that this film includes a sad (offscreen) death and some peril, including a taxidermist who wants to kill and stuff Paddington. Characters use some mild language and there is comic mayhem and peril and some bodily function humor. A woman flirts with a man to get him to do what she wants. A man dresses as a woman for disguise and another man finds him attractive. A character gets a security guard drunk so that other characters can break into a building.

Family discussion: Why did Mr. Brown change his views on taking risks when his daughter was born? Why doesn’t Mr. Curry like Paddington? Can you do a “hard stare” and when would you use it?

If you like this, try: the Paddington books and the “Curious George” books and movies — and taste some marmalade!

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The New Dr. Who: Peter Capaldi

Posted on August 4, 2013 at 2:41 pm

And the new Dr. Who is…Peter Capaldi, most recently seen in “World War Z” but perhaps most memorably seen in “In the Loop,” as the purveyor of the most impressively, explosively, excoriatingly profane tirades of invective ever put on screen. And that includes David Mamet. I will always remember him fondly as the sweet Scot from “Local Hero.” I look forward to his portrayal of the Time Lord.

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Local Hero

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Plot: McIntyre (Peter Reigert) is an ambitious executive with a Knox Oil & Gas, based in Houston, Texas. He is dispatched by Happer (Burt Lancaster), the company’s eccentric billionaire chief executive, to a remote corner of Scotland to acquire a fishing village named Ferness and the land surrounding it for an oil refinery and storage facility.

McIntyre, all business, arrives in Ferness with Danny Oldsen (Peter Capaldi), a Knox employee from Scotland. At first, McIntyre finds it hard to adjust to the pace of Ferness. Gordon Urquhart (Denis Lawson), the local innkeeper and resident accountant, tells him to enjoy the area for a couple of days before they open negotiations. Gordon tells the villagers about the offer from Knox. They are delighted at the prospect of being bought out and begin to debate the relative merits of a Rolls Royce over a Maserati. The only hitch to finalizing the deal is Ben, a reclusive beachcomber who lives in a shack by the shore. He owns several miles of beach and refuses to sell.

Meanwhile, McIntyre sheds his hurried Houston style and comes to enjoy the tranquil rhythms of the village. In a whisky-induced moment, he tells Urquhart that he wants them to swap jobs. Following Happer’s order to “watch the sky,” he is dazzled by the aurora borealis, the Northern Lights, and calls Happer to report.

Happer arrives from Houston. He establishes an instant rapport with Ben, and decides that instead of the refinery, he will create an observatory and marine laboratory — the Happer Institute. McIntyre is sent back to Texas to organize the changes. McIntyre returns to Houston, deeply missing the charm and character of his brief Highland life.

Discussion: McIntyre’s life in Houston is cluttered but empty. He resorts to phoning colleagues seated ten yards away to see if they are free for lunch. he cares a great deal about material things. In Ferness, his expensive watch falls into the water, and he doesn’t miss it. He learns to enjoy collecting shells and examining the night sky.

In a poignant final shot we see McIntyre calling the village’s pay phone.

It rings and rings, but no one answers. The suggestion is that while the village has invaded McIntyre’s soul, he has not had a similar impact in return. McIntyre represented a fleeting interest in lives that run to slower rhythms.

The film is to be noted less for its messages or themes than its magnificent cast of quirky, delightfully observed characters and gorgeous location photography. There is a touch of magic in the story, with a marine biologist who seems to be part mermaid, and a deus ex machina happy ending for most of the characters.

Note: This movie has the feel of a fairy tale, but there are some odd moments that may bother some kids. Happer hires a “therapist” for a bizarre “abuse therapy.” Danny saves a rabbit that is then cooked and served to Danny and McIntyre by Gordon. And the very un-Hollywood resolution, with McIntyre back in Texas by himself, should prompt some discussion of what kids think may happen to him.

Questions for Kids:

· What does McIntyre list as the requirements for an excellent life in Houston? Do the villagers agree with him, since all but Ben are anxious to sell?

· Why does the girl with the punk outfit say that she likes McIntyre?

· Why didn’t Ben want to sell?

· Why, when McIntyre calls the village pay phone at the end of the film, does no one answer?

Connections: Forsyth is also the director of the wonderful “Gregory’s Girl.”

Activities: Find Scotland on a map. Visit a marine study facility like the one they plan to build in Ferness.

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