15 May 2005 | theowinthrop
A Good Version of a Classic
This version of David COPPERFIELD is quite a good one, in that it does trim the 800 plus page novel down to reasonable coherence. There are some characters that one misses, but they are understandably cut due to length considerations. While Steerforth and his betrayal of the Peggoty Family is in the film (including the dual tragedy at it's conclusion), the sub-story of Little Em'ly's friend Martha and the business regarding Steerforth's mother, Rosa Dartle, and Mrs. Mowcher were dumped (Mrs. Mowcher would have been hard to cast). Pity, Mrs. Mowcher's famous speech to David about not confusing her physical attributes with her mental ones is missing. Also Steerforth's butler Littimer appears once, but the film does not get into the ironic coda of his imprisonment. While Uriah Heep's villainy against Mr. Wickfield and his clients is shown, his willingness to dig up dirt against other "enemies" is not shown. In particular his treatment of Dr. Strong (David's second schoolmaster), his young wife, and Jack Dalton is not developed (which is sad as it proves Mr. Dick is not simple minded).
But those are minor points really. The best jobs in the film are the work of the performers under George Cukor's direction: Edna Mae Oliver as the crusty, wise Aunt Betsy; Roland Young as the evil, greasy Uriah Heep (his best villain part); and W.C.Fields as Wilkins McCawber (Dicken's tribute to his lovable but improvident father) is superb - the one time his comic personae met the proper dramatic role; and Lionel Barrymore as Dan Pegotty determined to find his lost, ruined niece. Freddy Bartholemew's performance as young David is wonderful. But I must admit that Frank Lawson is a trifle colorless as the grown up David (although he has a funny moment at a dinner that Dora (Maureen O'Sullivan) tries to prepare). It is a weakness but a small weakness in a nearly perfect film.