Anna Maxwell Martin

The Personal History of David Copperfield

21/01/20

I arrive at the cinema expecting great things. The trailer for Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield promises a rollicking ride through one of Dickens’ best loved tales, and I’m excited to see how it unfolds.

The promise is kept: it is a rollicking ride. A bit too rollicking, if I’m honest, careening  through the 350,000 word novel at breakneck speed. Well, it’s a lot to fit into two hours. There’s nothing here I’d lose – no padding or filler required – but I’d be tempted to add an extra thirty minutes to the running time, just to give the story space to breathe.

Dev Patel is the eponymous hero of his own life, and very good he is too, all genial affability despite his social-climbing and urgent need to impress. Born a gentleman, he’s forced into poverty when his widowed mother remarries, and his stepfather (Darren Boyd) takes against the boy. Young David is not too worried at first: the poverty he’s witnessed so far – visiting Peggotty’s quirky, loving family in their upturned boat/house – has given him a romanticised impression of the working person’s lot. A back-breaking job in a bottle factory soon disabuses him of this worldview, and he determines to find a way to live a better life.

Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie form a show-stealing double-act as David’s aunt Betsey Trotwood and her cousin Mr Dick respectively; in fact, there are almost too many perfectly-captured vignettes featuring too many wonderful actors. There’s Anna Maxwell Martin playing school mistress Mrs Strong – whoosh! There’s Benedict Wong as the ever-thirsty Mr Wickfield, and Rosalind Eleazar as his daughter, Agnes – whoosh! Daisy May Cooper’s Peggotty is warmly, wittily portrayed; Morfydd Clark’s Dora Spenlow a frothy, silly delight. I do like the sense of breathless chaos: the lack of deference to period drama genre-norms; the diverse casting that proves it can (and should) be done. There’s just no time to focus in on anything before it’s gone.

In short, each scene is beautifully rendered; each character cleverly drawn. But the story feels a little superficial, with none of the darkness or political poignancy of Dickens’ semi-autobiographical novel.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

Macbeth

Clemmie Sveaas, Jessie Oshodi and Ana Beatriz Meireles in Macbeth. Photo by Richard Hubert SmithJohn Heffernan (Macbeth) and Anna Maxwell Martin (Lady Macbeth) in Macbeth. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith (2)

Home, Manchester

02/02/16

OK, so it’s yet another Shakespeare adaptation. And it’s Macbeth too – one of my favourites, but certainly not one that’s under-performed. Its length and relative simplicity make it a school curriculum staple, so regular airings are always assured: it’s an easy one to sell out.

But it’s this ubiquity that means it’s in danger of being – dare I say it? -boring. I’ve watched and read this play so often that, unless the director is bringing a fresh eye to it, I really don’t want to see it again. Especially after the recent much-acclaimed-but-actually-rather-dull film version, by Justin Kerzel (see previous review).

Luckily, Carrie Cracknell and Lucy Guerin’s production (for Home, Young Vic and Birmingham Rep) certainly brings that fresh eye. It’s not perfect by any means – there are a few jarring moments, and some lines that seem misjudged (that long pause between ‘hold’ and ‘enough’, for example, turning the latter into capitulation instead of a defiant battle cry), but it’s dirty and dangerous, just like it needs to be – and it’s sharp and witty  too.

It’s set in a version of the present, in a stark underpass, as grim as night. There are flickering fluorescent lights, and a sense of menace prevails. The body count is high, and murder is rife; the corpses are wrapped in plastic and tossed aside quite casually. This is certainly a brutal world.

And the witches. They’re my favourite thing. They’re twisted, haunted mannequins, moving their inhuman limbs in a foul and fearsome dance. They’re genuinely frightening, like horror-story dolls – sometimes pregnant, sometimes breast-feeding – and their gruesome game of Blind Man’s Buff makes the Macduff family murder a truly awful act.

The banquet scene is nicely done; Lady Macbeth’s madness is also a high point. It’s a strong production: daring and innovative and certainly not dull.

Highly recommended – although I suspect it will divide opinion.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield