Star of NW and Luther Nikki Amuka-Bird stars in London Film Festival’s opening film, The Personal History of David Copperfield.

The 63rd BFI London Film Festival in partnership with American Express is announced that this year’s Opening Night gala will be The Personal History of David Copperfield, directed by the multi-award-winning writer, filmmaker, and broadcaster Armando Iannucci and starring BAFTA Award winner Dev Patel as David Copperfield. The film will receive its European Premiere on Wednesday 2nd October at Odeon Luxe, Leicester Square. This fresh take on Charles Dickens’ classic novel, boasts a stellar British cast, led by Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, Paul Whitehouse, and Gwendoline Christie.

An avid Dickens fan, Armando Iannucci (the award-winning writer/director of The Thick of It, In the Loop, Veep and The Death of Stalin) adapts here, alongside frequent collaborator Simon Blackwell, employing his comedic mastery and vivid characterizations to bring to life one of Dickens’ most cherished characters in The Personal History of David Copperfield. From birth to infancy, from adolescence to adulthood, the good-hearted David Copperfield is surrounded by kindness, wickedness, poverty and wealth, as he meets an array of remarkable characters in Victorian England. As David sets out to be a writer, in his quest for family, friendship, romance and status, the story of his life is the most seductive tale of all.

What is interesting and will no doubt stoke discussions about the diversifying of historical fictional characters- see the furor around whether or not James Bond should be black, or a woman – is Iannucci’s casting of Dev Patel in the lead role. David Copperfield, though a character of Charles Dickens’ imagination, has always been an English man and rumoured to be loosely based on himself. Patel a British Indian man, is obviously not who Dickens was visualising.

Colourblind casting on the stage has been slightly more successful than on our screens. Infamously Noma Dumezweni broke revered character ground when she was cast as adult Hermione Granger in the first run of the West End stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. David Oyelowo is on record for being the first British Black man to play an English King in a big Shakespeare production, when he played Henry VI in This England: The Histories. On screen, colourblind casting tends to work more in white actors’ favour – a simple Internet search of ‘whitewashing in Hollywood‘ will deliver. However, there have been all-black productions of popular white tales, in the 90s Brandy and Whitney starred in the TV movie Cinderella. On the big screen, Eartha Kitt & Halle Berry have both played DC character ‘Catwoman‘ (Kitt – TV; Berry – Film), Idris Elba took on the role of ‘Heimdall‘ in Marvel’s Thor and Avengers films; Naomie Harris has assumed the role of ‘Miss Moneypenny‘ in the James Bond franchise.

The discussion around historical fictional characters and race is a sticky one. I wouldn’t appreciate ‘Celie‘ being played by a white woman for example, or any other favourite black character from any novel or folktale. However, I’m all the way here for Halle Bailey being cast as the Little Mermaid. In hindsight, though a black Karate Kid was a great moment in diversity on screen for black people, it wasn’t fair to the East Asian community who up until recent years have had less visibility on our screens than we have. I’m also not really fighting for a black or woman James Bond either. We have many black detective stories. Luther is a whole thing… Surely there are writers who can come up with woman super-spy?

As it stands, Nikki Amuka-Bird’s character in The Personal History of David Copperfield is ‘Mrs. Steerforth‘ mother of one of Copperfield’s friends, ‘James Steerforth‘ – who interestingly will be played by Aneurin Barnard a Welsh white man. British-Chinese actor Benedict Wong (Doctor Strange) joins the cast as ‘Mr Wickfield‘. British mixed-race actress Rosalind Eleazar has been cast ‘Agnes‘. The film has received early positive buzz about it. We shall see!

The Personal History of David Copperfield will be released by Lionsgate UK and is a FilmNation Entertainment and Film4 Production.

The 63rd BFI London Film Festival in partnership with American Express takes place from Wednesday 2nd October-Sunday 13th October 2019.