Young Daniel Radcliffe ragales Maggie Smith as Betsy Trotwood in David Copperield.
The full Dickens experience
David Copperfield (1999): Director Simon Curtis; writer Adrian Hodges; featuring Daniel Radcliffe, Maggie Smith, Bob Hoskins, Ian McKellen
If you cried reading the book, you won't be able to hold back the tears during the 1999 colour video version of David Copperfield either. Nor hold back the laughter. Nor the anger.
Bob Hoskins as Mr. Micawber.
Not that it's a soppy melodrama—far from it. This David Copperfield is just extremely effective in presenting Dickens's vision, bringing out clearly and succinctly the characters, the times and the pathos of the novel.
How we fear for David's mother (Emilia Fox). How we hate the Murdstones for their persecution of her and the boy. How we feel for young David (young Daniel Radcliffe, angelic without being precious).
Then how we revel joyously in the eccentric and lovable company of the Micawbers, Ms. Trotwood and Mr. Dick. How we are creeped out by Uriah Heep. And so the emotional rollercoaster continues.
Maggie Smith is the actor justifiably honoured for her supporting role here as the batty but strong Betsey Trotwood. But the real surprise may be Bob Hoskins as Mr. Micawber. Based on his usual characters, I would have thought him to be too crude to impersonate Dickens's famously indebted but optimistic businessman and good-hearted family man. But he quickly replaced any other notion of Micawber I'd ever had.
And among all the other great veteran British actors in character roles we have to centre out chubby Ian McNiece as the delightfully loony, but wise in his way, Mr. Dick. With only a few minutes of screen time he draws David and us into his wonderful world.
The only glitch, common to Dickens adaptations, is the transition as the boy becomes an adult. Ciarán McMenamin does a fine job as the grownup David in himself but suffers from not looking or seeming anything like the younger David. It takes a bit of time to accommodate the changeover but we eventually succeed. Really the problem is that the first half of the novel David Copperfield is so much better than the second half and this very loyal film reflects this dichotomy. Yet, with a few discreet edits to the story, it pulls it off.
Images from the effective and affecting 1999 film of David Copperfield.
British dramas based on classic works can be ponderous and slow. But this one moves along at exactly the right pace to keep our interest while giving us the time to help us fully experience every turn as the characters do.
On video, the running time is just over three hours, covering the most important episodes of the novel. And cover them very well, it does, with great respect for Dickens but without being afraid to have a little fun with it too.