David Copperfield (2000)


Over ten years ago, Hallmark Entertainment in partnership with TNT produced a two-part, four-hour long adaptation of the Dickens’ classic David Copperfield. It was aired for American audiences but has never been officially released to U.S. viewers. (Go figure!) Overflowing with some talented actors, and hence memorable characters and pretty costumes, this version is more about theatrics than it is staying true to the nitty-gritty of the source material. 
 
The account of his birth was detailed to young David Copperfield more than once in the nine years he lived happily with his young, widowed mother (Sarah Smart). His father’s aunt, Betsy Trotwood (Sally Field) was present the night of his birth but left without saying a word when David turned out to be a boy and namesake of his father rather than the girl she wanted to be given her name. This is where David (Hugh Dancy) begins in writing down the autobiographical story of his life. He writes about the horrible period of time leading up to his mother’s death when she was married to the cruel Edward Murdstone (Anthony Andrews) and his sister, Jane (Eileen Atkins) living with them. Escaping his own tragic circumstances at the hand of his step-father in the aftermath of the death, David finds his aunt and in later years, love with his employer’s daughter, Dora (Julie Cox). In-between the good times, he meets up again with ghosts from the past and finds himself embroiled in a scheme orchestrated by the suspicious Uriah Heep (Frank McCusker) – and saving his childhood friend, Agnes Wickfield in the process.  

Anyone who is familiar (who among us isn’t!?) with the story of David Copperfield knows that there is a great deal that happened in-between the good, bad and ugly in the hero’s life. He goes through more than one form of living hell and still, in spite of the world trying to drag him down, he turns out to be an upstanding, formidable man. The message is one that should be an inspiration to any of us who’ve convinced ourselves we cannot do any better because we aren’t better. Here is a story of a young boy whose determination was never lost and he was rewarded for his plucky attitude. There are multiple versions of this story – and no doubt, each of us have our favorites, seeing this version reveals several things about the story while not being overwhelming or too detailed, something I can appreciate. In comparing this with the other version I prefer, I was surprised to realize both clock in within ten minutes of each other. It always seemed as if this U.S. production – one that BBC opted to pass over – was so much shorter and that was the reason why its pacing seemed rushed at times and slow in other instances. 

Since it was my first exposure to Dickens in any form, this particular story will always be “special” for me though in retrospect it’s probably not his most challenging or strongest writing. Intellectually, Bleak House has all of his stories beat though there is a lot of solid moral lessons to be found in the multiple subplots that keep us trying to catch our breath as we follow the vignette stories. This one focuses a great deal more on David’s childhood and the volatile temperament of Murdstone. During his adult years, David runs into him several times whereas the relationship he has with Steerforth is much downgraded. In addition to the fabulous cast, Paul Bettany and Michael Richards also have roles. Carrying his role brilliantly is Andrews who’s smirk and evil lurking is creepy enough to be positively wicked as is his deep, grating voice though let me warn you, if you’ve not seen the 1980’s version of The Scarlet Pimpernel (which is brilliant by the way!), then you’ll want to forgo seeing Andrews in this role. The contrast is a bit too disconcerting. Hugh Dancy was as relative unknown at the time of filming but he manages the iconic role tolerably well – he plays a more na├»ve David who is still fearful of his step-father until the final ten minutes of the film in which he gets an unfortunate, under-played confrontation with him.  

If there was only one thing I could constructively criticize it’d be the timeframes and pacing. Far too much of the film focused on David’s childhood but there is an adult David narrating which makes up for the lack of Hugh Dancy in front of the camera. The ending is all too abrupt also though it’s complete. Costuming is pretty if not totally period authentic and the settings are usually grand making for lush landscapes and stylish estates. Perhaps not the most worthy adaptation, Robert Halmi impressed me with his television-produced version of this classic. It’s got lots to its credit and that is what makes this a timeless classic.  

(The films rates PG: there is s scene of a child being beaten with a cane [multiple blows]. Behind closed doors, another child is whipped much the same way. Elsewhere, children are mistreated in work houses and at schools – fellow students taunt and bully the newcomer.)
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Rissi
26 Comments

26 comments:

  1. Ohmygosh I LOVED this version of David Copperfield!! I remember wearing out a VHS recording of it. Where did you find this, on YouTube?

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    1. Actually, Ruth, you can purchase a DVD copy of this on Amazon which is what I did. I bought it under the assumption that it was region 2 but it came and was actually marked as "0." I purchased it from this Amazon seller, Zoverstocks at this link:

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/B00029RDO0/sr=/qid=/ref=olp_tab_used?ie=UTF8&colid=&coliid=&condition=used&me=&qid=&seller=&sr=

      Hope that helps! And that you can see it again - I enjoyed it so much after years of wanting to re-watch it. :)

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  2. I still have a VHS copy of this, although I also have no way to play it! I haven't seen it in years! =P

    Andrews was very good... which is a testament to his acting skills, since he's so wonderful in everything! (Ironically, he reminds me of Basil Rathbone in that regard -- Rathbone was also a very kind man terrific in wonderful roles, but he too played Bradley Headstone in the original film. He was very distressed that he had to be so mean to the child-actor!)

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    1. You don't have a combo DVD/VHS player? We still have a couple of those and use them on the rare occasion that we play a VHS.

      Andrews is by far the best part of this adaptation. He's creepy as anything! It's too bad he isn't in more roles (he was really fun as Tommy in Marple also) but this one... yeah, it's one of his finest. All I have to say is I'm glad I saw him as Sir. Percy first. Otherwise, the effect would have been ruined! Hope you can see this one again, Charity - it's worth a look.

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    2. I used to, but mine bit the dust a couple years back -- I only have like two VHS's anyway, so it doesn't really matter. =D

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    3. Aw! That's no fun. Sorry about that. :/

      I'm trying to weed out all of the VHS movies by upgrading them to DVD - or the ones we really like. For example, I still have 'Ideal Husband' on VHS and don't watch it as often as I'd like since the VHS player has to be "set-up" to watch anything on it. And that is just not acceptable for such a fabulous movie to gather dust. ;D

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    4. I weeded out all my VHS a looong time ago. I still have this, and The Jungle Book -- I keep hoping that'll come out on Blu someday, so I can replace it (the live-action version from Disney). I do have An Ideal Husband on DVD. Another one I hope they remaster and release in a higher format. ;)

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    5. That is something studios seem to be slow at getting around too - unless it was a HUGE blockbuster. Not having An Ideal Husband on DVD is sort of a crime. That is something I think I need to remedy when I order the rest of our Christmas gifts from Amazon this week. :)

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  3. I love period dramas and Charles Dicken's adapations,so I will have to see if I can find this movie.
    Thanks for the review!

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    1. Hope you do, Ella - if you like Dickens', this version is worth checking into. :)

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  4. Love the 1982 Scarlet Pimpernel so much! :D Have you seen "Bleak House" or "Little Dorrit"? The former is about five hours, the latter closer to eight...but both are amazing. :)

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    1. I absolutely LOVE the re-make of Bleak House, Charity. It's one of the BEST Dickens adaptations I've yet to encounter while the new Little Dorrit is my favorite in comparison to the 80's version.

      And, yes, the 1980's adaptation of 'Pimpernel' is phenomenal! Love it. :)

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    2. This is STRANGE. Two Charity's, commenting on the same blog?!

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    3. I know, right!? ;D You ladies have such a pretty name though.

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    4. Once, elsewhere, someone commented on my full name and said, "That has GOT to be a pen name -- no one would give their kid an angelic name like that!" I admit, putting "Charity" with "Bishop" is a bold religious move, but I like it. ;)

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    5. That's a funny story, Charity! Don't think I've heard that one before; your parents knew what they were doing. :)

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  5. I guess I'm the only one who doesn't know the story of David Copperfield. :-( I do believe that other than The Christmas Carol I watched as a kid that Our Mutual Friend was my first Dickens based movie I experience as an adult. Since having seen that and LOVING it, I've watched Little Dorrit, Bleak House, Great Expectations etc. and fell in love with those too. Since this has Hugh in it I'll probably have to go hunt it down now. ;-)Thanks for sharing!

    xoxo,
    Renee

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    1. Oh, goodness, Renee, you'll have to see a version of this sometime if you like Dickens. They say it's the closest of all his stories to an autobiographical look at his life. That always interested me. 'Mutual Friend' is also a favorite - it's got fantastic if not slightly creepy characters and still, I like it. :)

      Hope you can find this version - and you like it. Being one of Hugh's early roles, it's probably not his best but he turns in an admirable performance.

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  6. I know! O. M. Friend still gives me the creeps! I was just talking the other day about the schoolmaster (played by David Morrissey) the other day! *shivers* Morrissey does creepy characters very well...but then again he does nice characters well too. I loved him in Sense and Sensibility LOL!

    xoxo,
    Renee

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    1. Here's my issue with creepy characters and good actors: I saw Morrissey in 'Friend' prior to "S&S" so it was hard to accept him as the wonderful character played by the marvelous Alan Rickman. Likewise I saw the 80's version of 'Pimpernel' well before seeing this adaptation of David Copperfield though in the latter instance, it was alright because I saw Andrews in such a "good" role first - had it been the other way around, it would have been AWFUL! As it stands now, Morrissey has grown on me a lot since that first viewing - but boy, does he do creepy well! *SHIVERS*

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  7. Hahaha well don't watch The Walking Dead. My brother watches it and I happened to walk in while he was watching it and discovered that Morrissey plays a very creepy "governor" of a zombie-free town, not to mention he has an American accent which is just plain weird.... I definitely understand your issue. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to handle Benedict Cumberbatch as a villain in the new Star Trek film. I <3 him as Sherlock way too much! ;-)

    xoxo,
    Renee

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    1. I'll remember that, Renee! Not a big fan of zombies/vampires anyway but that could have been horrible. :D Morrissey does do "creepy" quite well though...

      That's right, Sherlock is to play a villain!? *gasp* What is this world coming too!? Not sure if I'll see that film or not since I haven't watched the first one but if I do, all I can say is, I sure am glad I saw 'Sherlock' first! :D

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    2. Watch the first Star Trek movie first, if you decide to watch the sequel. It's... well, it's the best sci-fi film in years.

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    3. That's good to know. I've seen it at the video store but since I am not a 'Trekkie' it never appealed to me.

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  8. I really love this David Copperfield adaptation, but I have not watched other DC adaptations (yet) so can't really compare. Hmmm, must really rectify that! Next to Hugh Dancy I really loved Sally Field in the role of Aunt Betsy in here.

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    1. You and I both, Birdienl! It's more focused on "pretty theatrics" than the gritty drama but that doesn't matter to me! The other one I own is the BBC/Masterpiece Theatre version that runs about the same time as this. For some reasons I prefer it and for other scenes/moments, I like this one better.

      Sally Field is hysterical! She plays the part fabulously. :)

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