BY RENU MEHTA, TORONTO: Dev Patel returned to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), this time with Director Armando Iannucci’s film The Personal History of David Copperfield. Charles Dickens classic autobiographical novel had a stellar cast that besides Patel included Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Gwendoline Christie, Peter Capaldi, and Ben Whishaw.
The film is set in 19th-century England and tracks the life of Copperfield who is shown with his family, friends and peers. Born six months after the death of his father, David (Patel) is raised by a loving mother until she remarries. David is shipped off to the cottage, actually a capsized boat, of his housekeeper’s family. He then lives in various homes including an oppressive boarding school and the home of his eccentric aunt Betsey Trotwood. Through it all, he writes brief impressions of all those he encounters that he later presents in his autobiography.
“I met him and he laid out this tremendous story about this Dickens nerd,” said Patel recounting his meeting with Iannucci at the Princess of Wales theatre in Toronto on September 5. “David Copperfield came alive in the meeting; I hadn’t read the script and I hadn’t read the book and I was so enamoured with his energy and the vision he had. I kind of signed on from that meeting. The script was amazing because they took the world of Dickens from the usual stiff collared kind of period drama. There are all kinds of animation and I thought it was well done.”
Patel said when he read the script he said ‘oh Wow’.
“I kind of was reading this and said my God; I see India in it as well with all the class system and stuff like that.”
Iannucci had a great cast and said the film was neither about Harry Potter and nor was it set in Paddington.
“I wanted young actors of today to play Copperfield. He’s intensely human. The film is how we engage with each other. It’s about community and support of community,” said Iannucci.
Patel, who first came to Toronto with Danny Boyle in Slumdog Millionaire in 2008 has returned with many films to TIFF including The Man Who knew Infinity (2015), Lion (2016) and Hotel Mumbai (2018). He brings a lot of energy to the character of Copperfield in the enjoyable and eccentric adaptation of Charles Dickens classic novel.
“I really relate to this guy and I didn’t think I would,” said Patel. “I thought Copperfield was a magician. I didn’t believe in myself going into this world and all of these guys (the cast), they just helped me to get this together. And that is what Copperfield is and that all his friends and loved ones and peers are holding him together and giving him courage. It became like life imitating art.”