It’s been a while since I’ve read Charles Dickens’ famous novel, and thus I didn’t have much recollection of David Copperfield and the events contained herein. I think that might be the real reason I didn’t take to this cinematic adaptation all that well. David Copperfield (the film) is yet another Best Picture nominee adapted from a literary source, and yet another nominee directed by George Cukor, and these two things combined in the early years of the Academy threatened to turn me off of the film completely before I’d started it. When I did finally begin the film, I needn’t have worried about not being interested in it because of preconceptions; the film itself was merely standard and run-of-the-mill enough for me to end up not interested in it all that much anyways.
David Copperfield is ostensibly a biopic, albeit one for a fictional character, and thus the plot largely consists of young David having event after event happen to him, which he tries to take in stride or overcome, as he matures into adulthood. Now, the original novel is very likely part of the reason why this type of story is so littered throughout American writing, and cinema as a byproduct, so I can’t hold it against the book and the film too much, but what I could hold against it was how flat everything felt. This was a passion project for producer David O. Selznick, and as can generally happen with passion projects, they can either be stellar, infused with energy and drive for the material, or they can be entirely by-the-numbers, driven solely by the will of the single mind seeking the goal it wants, and David Copperfield fits squarely into the latter category. The film comes off as existing for its own sake and little else, and I really couldn’t have cared less about anything that happened in it, which was a shame considering how beloved Dickens’ original work has been over the years. The cast and their performances were able, though a bit overacted in more than a few sections, save for one standout example I never would have thought; W.C. Fields, who plays Mr. Micawber, and who is by and large the most memorable of the supporting players. As for the titular character and the young actor that plays him, it’s been a while since I’ve seen Freddie Bartholomew in a film, and I wasn’t expecting him to be so unlikable on the screen, though maybe it was just a circumstance of the British dialogue and the necessity of its deliverance. It had also been a while since I’ve seen a film of the 1930s with an actual musical score, so it seemed rather intrusive whenever it appeared, which was more often than I’ve been used to.
I really was expecting a little more than what I got with this; I went into it with only superficial expectations, and ended up bored and without care for the whole two hours of the film’s running time. Fields’ surprising semi-dramatic turn notwithstanding, there really isn’t a whole lot of reason to see this one, unless you’re a fan of Dickens or the novel in question, in which case this may indeed be one of the better adaptations of this work (not that I’ve seen too many versions to compare, mind you). I just felt listless watching this, not caring about the characters or anything that happened to them, letting the events of the film roll over me like rain off a rooftop and not even feeling damp after it happened. Your mileage may vary, but Cukor’s work has generally left me withdrawn, and this was no different.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10