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Critics Choice
25 October 2020 21:46

I watched the 2019 David Copperfield film last week, having seen the DVD on offer in Tesco. It highlighted, or so the trailers and media puff had had me believe, the humour of Dickens’ work. Yes, there is humour in Dickens, it’s not all over-long descriptions and no pictures.

The cast looked promising (Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Paul Whitehouse) and it was directed by Armando Iannucci. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, if you do get a chance to see this film, don’t bother. It really was most underwhelming. Nothing at all like the “Incredibly Funny” quote from the Guardian pasted on the sleeve. To be honest, I’m not at all bothered that I destroyed the DVD case trying to get it out because I don’t think I’ll be keeping it (I destroyed the case, btw, the dozy checkout operator hadn’t demagnetised the security tag).

So, what was wrong with it? Well, pretty much everything. I have read the book (it’s one of the few Dickens books I have read cover to cover – it did take me 18 months).

I know film adaptations have to select which parts of the story to take, but this film took liberties too far. Having dispensed with his early schooldays, it moved two characters from that period (Creakle and Tungay) to the bottling plant? Why? It’s not is if they were central to the plot line; the only reason for their inclusion would have been the humour element – which didn’t quite come off. Other characters were combined (e.g. Mr Wickfield and Dr Strong) and/or brought it at the wrong time, while poor old Tommy Traddles got only a side mention.

The potential humour (well, you maybe had to be there) of Daniel Peggotty’s repeated “drown-ded” was merged into a single “they both downed”, which didn’t work nearly as well.

The timeline was all wrong too. The film had Copperfield’s mother dying while he was working at the bottling plant. In fact, he went to work at the bottling plant after his mother died – because his evil stepfather was too cruel to pay the school fees.

As if that wasn’t enough, the worst injustice to the book is yet to come. Oh wait, there’s another one I’ve just remembered. Uriah Heap’s fraudulent activity was shown as having been exposed by Agnes Wickfield, not by Mr Micawber as in the book. In fact, I don’t think Mr Micawber was shown to have nearly as central a part to the story line as he should have been.

Here’s the biggest injustice. Not once did Uriah Heep say “’umble”, nor Mr Micawber say “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery”. How can any adaption of David Copperfield be worth its salt without those two quotes?

This anti-climax set me thinking of other films and plays that I have found to be lack-lustre. There may be a few controversial thoughts here.

Fame – OK, I was probably already biased by memories of the lack-lustre TV show of the 80s when we watched this musical a few weeks ago. It didn’t have much of a story line; but seemed to be a collection of loosely connected scenes. The characters merged so I couldn’t really remember who who was (which may be why I found the story line difficult to follow). Basically, I didn’t invest in the characters or plot. Rather than wondering how it would all work out in the end, I found that I didn’t really care.

Cats: This, apparently, is extremely popular. Again, it is a set of loosely connected scenes, but it is based on people pretending to be cats. Or cats pretending to be people. Too much anthropomorphism.

Starlight Express: Speaking of anthropomorphism, in this musical we have people pretending to be trains pretending to be people. I’ll leave it there.

High School Musical: A few years ago, Mrs B was involved in the orchestra for a school production of this musical. Consequently, I heard the music a lot. A very lot. Despite this, both at the time and subsequently, I would have difficulty humming any of the tunes. A whole musical without any memorable tune? Back to the drawing board.

Breakfast Club: My problem here is the whole set-up. We have a group of school children on a detention on a Saturday (how does that happen?) but the supervising teacher leaves them to their own devices. Really? Where is the disciplinary nature of the punishment? Where is the duty of care to the pupils?

Friends: shallow characters, improbable setting; not even very funny. Never understood the popularity of this show.

8 out of 10 does Countdown: OK, as a one-off - -perhaps as a Channel 4 anniversary, or part of a telethon – this mashup might have worked. But to make it into a series? And then another and another? Surely even Channel Found can see that there are only so many times you can keep making the same joke. If I want to watch Countdown, I’ll watch Countdown. If I want to watch 8 Out of 10 Cats, I’ll watch 8 Out Of 10 cats. I neither need nor want to watch them both at the same time.

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