16 February 2000 | Ron Oliver
Mr. Dickens' Characters Come To Life
A young boy grows to manhood in Victorian England. He will learn to deal with the early deaths of his parents. He will be cruelly abused by his sadistic stepfather. He will be betrayed by false friends. He will experience a brief, tragic marriage. He will also be showered with tenderness and affection from hearts good & true. He will grow to be a man made strong by adversity, but still wondering if he'll turn out to be the hero of his own life. He is DAVID COPPERFIELD.
Charles Dickens' masterpiece comes to marvelous life in this triumphant translation from literary classic into film. Enormous care was taken by MGM to get the look & feel just right - to make the viewer believe they were seeing the novel spread out before them, without a false moment from start to finish. (The Studio even went so far as to use special on-location exterior filming at Canterbury Cathedral, a segment that only runs for a few seconds.)
The all-star cast is remarkable:
Freddie Bartholomew, newly brought from England by his aunt, is perfect in the role of Young David; his anguish at the death of his mother is almost palpable.
Replacing a reluctant Charles Laughton, W. C. Fields proved a triumph in the comic role of the penniless Mr. Micawber, always confident of something `turning up.' (You might think Fields' American accent & mannerisms would tend to be grating, but he turns in what is arguably his finest performance. Fields had loved Dickens' novels for years and always kept a few in his vaudeville trunk. He knew the role and how to play it. Here he takes the character of Micawber, tweaks it slightly, and delights us.)
Lionel Barrymore, as the old fisherman Dan'l Peggoty, adding yet another exceptional portrait to his gallery of character parts.
Edna May Oliver is unforgettable as the stern, yet loving, Aunt Betsey, forever chasing donkeys off her property - fiercely defensive of those she cares for.
Basil Rathbone as Mr. Murdstone, dark & dangerous, full of passions & fury.
Maureen O'Sullivan as darling Dora, sweet & doomed.
Roland Young as an oily Uriah Heep, sniveling & devious.
Lewis Stone, Elizabeth Allan, Una O'Connor, Lennox Pawle, Elsa Lanchester, Violet Kemble Cooper, Madge Evans, Frank Lawton - all perfectly cast.
(Look for E. E. Clive, Lionel Belmore & Arthur Treacher in tiny uncredited roles. Sir Hugh Walpole, the celebrated English novelist who adapted the novel for the screen, appears as the Vicar.)
Savor this wonderful film again & again.