I’m at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, so I thought I’d post some mini reviews of the movies I’ve seen so far. I’m breaking up the posts by the days on which I watched the movies. Descriptions by/from TIFF.net. Reviews are my own rambling opinions.
From the imaginations of Oscar nominees Armando Iannucci, director of TIFF 2017’s The Death of Stalin, and Simon Blackwell, who co-wrote Iannucci’s breakthrough feature In the Loop, comes this gloriously frenetic adaptation of one of Charles Dickens’ most beloved novels. Starring Oscar nominee Dev Patel and featuring an august supporting cast that includes Oscar winner Tilda Swinton and Golden Globe winners Hugh Laurie and Ben Wishaw, The Personal History of David Copperfield is gloriously entertaining, careening through 19th-century England as it tracks its hero’s zigzag destiny.
Born six months after the death of his father, David (Patel) is lucky to be raised by a loving mother. But when Mum weds the dour Edward Murdstone, David is shipped off to the cottage — actually a capsized boat — of his housekeeper’s family. These peculiar accommodations prove to be only the first of David’s numerous temporary abodes, which include an oppressive boarding school and the home of his eccentric aunt Betsey Trotwood (Swinton). Wherever David goes, whether living in poverty or comfort, he writes pithy impressions of all those he encounters — impressions that will one day constitute his autobiography.
This movie is perfection, from the cast to the writing to the visuals and cinematography; it’s a feast for the mind and for the eyes. (And no, it’s not about a certain magician, it’s based on the Charles Dickens novel.) It’s lush to look at, and you’re invested in David’s story and rooting for him throughout, from precocious child to young adult. I can’t say enough about the cast. Led by the amazing Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, and Peter Capaldi just about stole every scene they were in. There are too many other cast members/characters to list here, but they’re all memorable.
Worth seeing in a theater?
Yes. Absolutely. See above re: a feast for the mind and for the eyes. Also, I went in to the movie liking Tilda Swinton and came out worshipping her.
Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) is a brilliant young marine biology student, more at home amidst laboratory equipment than people. As a component of her studies, she boards a trawler overseen by a couple (Dougray Scott and Connie Nielsen) whose amiable demeanour shields both financial worries and profound grief. Siobhán is not exactly welcomed aboard: her cool, scientific perspective is at odds with that of the salty, superstitious crew of “fishmen,” and her red hair is considered bad luck. Not long after setting sail, the old ship’s hull is glommed onto by a bizarre, bioluminescent creature of unknown genus.
This movie is a bit more of a slow burn than what’s usually in today’s horror movie scene, but I liked it. Everything that can go wrong on a fishing boat expedition does, and then the weird things begin happening. Are they all hallucinating? Is there something else at play? And how can they survive it? The long takes on open seas and from underwater angles help add to the feeling of isolation felt by those on board the ship. Thanks to its premise and the director’s steady hand, the climax avoids the usual everything-thrown-at-the-wall chaos of most modern horror.
Worth seeing in a theater?
Yes, for the beautiful cinematography that adds to the sense of claustrophobia and isolation felt by the ship’s crew, but I don’t think anything will be lost in translation if you watch it at home.