David Copperfield; kind of a douche

July 30, 2010

During the last week I’ve watched two adaptations of David Copperfield and my conclusion is this: he’s kind of a douche.  More on that later.

The thing I find actually more interesting than the plot of either version is that there are two which came out within a year of each other.  It does seem a most astonishing coincidence.  BBC and Masterpiece Theater put out their version in 1999 and then TNT and Hallmark Entertainment came out with another one just a few short months later in 2000.  I can understand how the two of them might have been begun in ignorance but surely the two productions must have been aware of each other as they proceeded.  It just seems very strange.  They both contain some fairly bright lights of British drama.  For the BBC verision: Emilia Fox as David’s ill fated mother, Paulien Quirke as the devoted Peggoty and Maggie Smith as his aunt Betsy Trotwood.  Also Ian McKellen, Imelda Staunton and Bob Hoskins not to mention the fact that young David is played by Daniel Radcliffe.  In his scenes with Maggie Smith I couldn’t help wondering where he’d left his Harry Potter glasses!  The TNT production makes some very odd casting choices (Americans Sally Field and Michael Richards have leading roles and moderately competent fake accents) but still boasts Dame Eileen Atkins, Paul Bettany and stars Hugh Dancy as the adult David.  (He does an alright job but I liked him MUCH better in the more recent Daniel Deronda.  Here’s Harry, I mean young David, below:

But back to how much David Copperfield is a douche.  Anybody who could fall for Dora Spenlow after knowing Agnes Whitflield is clearly a complete idiot.  Of course, allowances must be made.  The protagonists of many stories (as well as a number of real live guys) have been so foolish as to value appearance over character.  Its a sad fact that Jane Austen knew how to describe: “an unaccountable bias in favor of beauty had left him with a very silly wife.”  But dippiness is forgivable – David goes so much farther.  He has the all fired cheek to come home to visit Agnes and tell her he’s engaged and then practically in the next sentence lay on the guilt about how she isn’t going to marry that jerk Uriah Heap, is she?  Come on.  If you’re totally abandoning her in this rotten situation giving her a lot of guilt trips about how she handles it is hardly fair.

Its often been said that David Copperfield is the least interesting character in his own story.  The ostensible reason is that he’s too unrealistically good and innocent as he wanders through a world of crazies.  But I think that goodness is disputable in his caddish behavior to poor Agnes, who he first abandons to the creepy blandishments of Uriah Heep, then expects to guide and care for his useless wife Dora, and finally ditches for several years while he roams the Continent feeling sorry for himself.  She oughtn’t to take him back at the end, that’s my opinion.  Therefor in summary, and based on a long ago reading and two recent viewings: David Copperfield; kind of a douche!

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