‘DAVID COPPERFIELD’ (2000): THE HALLMARK VERSION OF DICKENS MASTERPIECE. Review of the Hugh Dancy TV miniseries. Text © Rissi JC


January 4, 2013 Rissi JC 27 Comments

Over ten years ago, Hallmark Entertainment, in partnership with TNT, produced a two-part, four-hour long adaptation of the Dickens’ classic David Copperfield. Full of talent, memorable characters and pretty costumes, this version is more about theatrics the nitty-gritty of the source material. 

David Copperfield (2000) TNT TV Miniseries Review

The account and details of his birth is a story young David Copperfield hears more than once in the nine years he lives happily with his young, widowed mother (Sarah Smart). This is how David (Hugh Dancy) begins to write the autobiographical story of his life. He writes about the horrible period of his mother’s mistreatment at the hands of the cruel Edward Murdstone (Anthony Andrews) and his sister (Eileen Atkins). In the wake of her death, he escapes his own tragic circumstances at the hand of his step-father.

Eventually, David finds his aunt (Sally Field) and in later years, love with his employer’s daughter, Dora (Julie Cox). In-between the good times, he meets with ghosts from the past and finds himself part of a scheme orchestrated by the suspicious Uriah Heep (Frank McCusker). All while saving his childhood friend, Agnes Wickfield.  

Anyone who is familiar with the story of David Copperfield knows a lot happens in-between the good, bad and ugly. He goes through more than one form of living hell and still, he turns out to be an upstanding, formidable man. The message is one that should be an inspiration to any of us that we can do any better.

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‘DAVID COPPERFIELD’ (2000): THE HALLMARK VERSION OF DICKENS MASTERPIECE. Review of the Hugh Dancy TV miniseries. Text © Rissi JC

There’s multiple versions of this story, and no doubt, each of us have our favorite. This version reveals several things about the story while not being overwhelming or too detailed. As I compare this with the BBC adaptation, I’m surprised to realize both clock within ten minutes of each other. It always seems as if this U.S. production is so much shorter which is why the pacing seems to rush at times and slow in other instances. 

Since this is my first exposure to Dickens in any form, this particular story will always be “special.” Intellectually, Bleak House has all of Dickens’ stories beat. Despite this, there’s always moral lessons to learn. This one focuses a great deal more on David’s childhood and the volatile temperament of Murdstone. (This means his relationship with Steerforth is less.) In addition to the fabulous cast, Paul Bettany and Michael Richards co-star. It’s Andrews who is quite brilliant; his smirk and evil lurking is creepy and positively wicked. Though let me warn you, if you never saw the 1980’s version of The Scarlet Pimpernel (which is brilliant), then you’ll want to forgo seeing this. Hugh Dancy is a relative newcomer at the time of filming but he manages the iconic role well; he plays a more naïve David until the final ten minutes of the film.  

If there is only one thing I could constructively criticize it’s the timeframe. Far too much of the film focuses on David’s childhood but there is an adult David narrating which makes up for the lack of Hugh Dancy in front of the camera. The ending is all too abrupt also though it’s complete. Costuming is pretty if not totally period authentic and the settings are all lush landscapes and stylish estates. Perhaps not the most worthy adaptation, Robert Halmi impresses me with this version of a classic.

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It’s next to impossible to find David Copperfield (2000) anywhere just now; although you may see the rare British region 2 DVD on Amazon once in a while.

The films rates PG: there is s scene of a child being beaten with a cane [multiple blows]. Behind closed doors, another child is whipped much the same way. Elsewhere, there’s a lot of mistreatment of children in work houses and at schools; fellow students taunt and bully the newcomer.

About Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.

Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.

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  • Ruth January 4, 2013 at 2:09 PM

    Ohmygosh I LOVED this version of David Copperfield!! I remember wearing out a VHS recording of it. Where did you find this, on YouTube?

  • Charity January 4, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    I still have a VHS copy of this, although I also have no way to play it! I haven't seen it in years! =P

    Andrews was very good… which is a testament to his acting skills, since he's so wonderful in everything! (Ironically, he reminds me of Basil Rathbone in that regard — Rathbone was also a very kind man terrific in wonderful roles, but he too played Bradley Headstone in the original film. He was very distressed that he had to be so mean to the child-actor!)

    • Rissi January 4, 2013 at 10:59 PM

      You don't have a combo DVD/VHS player? We still have a couple of those and use them on the rare occasion that we play a VHS.

      Andrews is by far the best part of this adaptation. He's creepy as anything! It's too bad he isn't in more roles (he was really fun as Tommy in Marple also) but this one… yeah, it's one of his finest. All I have to say is I'm glad I saw him as Sir. Percy first. Otherwise, the effect would have been ruined! Hope you can see this one again, Charity – it's worth a look.

    • Charity January 5, 2013 at 9:29 PM

      I used to, but mine bit the dust a couple years back — I only have like two VHS's anyway, so it doesn't really matter. =D

    • Rissi January 6, 2013 at 5:19 AM

      Aw! That's no fun. Sorry about that. :/

      I'm trying to weed out all of the VHS movies by upgrading them to DVD – or the ones we really like. For example, I still have 'Ideal Husband' on VHS and don't watch it as often as I'd like since the VHS player has to be "set-up" to watch anything on it. And that is just not acceptable for such a fabulous movie to gather dust. ;D

    • Charity January 7, 2013 at 6:48 PM

      I weeded out all my VHS a looong time ago. I still have this, and The Jungle Book — I keep hoping that'll come out on Blu someday, so I can replace it (the live-action version from Disney). I do have An Ideal Husband on DVD. Another one I hope they remaster and release in a higher format. ;)

    • Rissi January 8, 2013 at 2:08 AM

      That is something studios seem to be slow at getting around too – unless it was a HUGE blockbuster. Not having An Ideal Husband on DVD is sort of a crime. That is something I think I need to remedy when I order the rest of our Christmas gifts from Amazon this week. :)

  • Ella January 4, 2013 at 7:06 PM

    I love period dramas and Charles Dicken's adapations,so I will have to see if I can find this movie.
    Thanks for the review!

    • Rissi January 4, 2013 at 10:55 PM

      Hope you do, Ella – if you like Dickens', this version is worth checking into. :)

  • Charity U January 4, 2013 at 10:59 PM

    Love the 1982 Scarlet Pimpernel so much! :D Have you seen "Bleak House" or "Little Dorrit"? The former is about five hours, the latter closer to eight…but both are amazing. :)

    • Rissi January 4, 2013 at 11:00 PM

      I absolutely LOVE the re-make of Bleak House, Charity. It's one of the BEST Dickens adaptations I've yet to encounter while the new Little Dorrit is my favorite in comparison to the 80's version.

      And, yes, the 1980's adaptation of 'Pimpernel' is phenomenal! Love it. :)

    • Charity January 5, 2013 at 9:31 PM

      This is STRANGE. Two Charity's, commenting on the same blog?!

    • Rissi January 6, 2013 at 5:19 AM

      I know, right!? ;D You ladies have such a pretty name though.

    • Charity January 8, 2013 at 9:29 PM

      Once, elsewhere, someone commented on my full name and said, "That has GOT to be a pen name — no one would give their kid an angelic name like that!" I admit, putting "Charity" with "Bishop" is a bold religious move, but I like it. ;)

    • Rissi January 9, 2013 at 1:06 AM

      That's a funny story, Charity! Don't think I've heard that one before; your parents knew what they were doing. :)

  • Renee (SteelerGirl83) January 5, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    I guess I'm the only one who doesn't know the story of David Copperfield. :-( I do believe that other than The Christmas Carol I watched as a kid that Our Mutual Friend was my first Dickens based movie I experience as an adult. Since having seen that and LOVING it, I've watched Little Dorrit, Bleak House, Great Expectations etc. and fell in love with those too. Since this has Hugh in it I'll probably have to go hunt it down now. ;-)Thanks for sharing!


    • Rissi January 5, 2013 at 5:16 AM

      Oh, goodness, Renee, you'll have to see a version of this sometime if you like Dickens. They say it's the closest of all his stories to an autobiographical look at his life. That always interested me. 'Mutual Friend' is also a favorite – it's got fantastic if not slightly creepy characters and still, I like it. :)

      Hope you can find this version – and you like it. Being one of Hugh's early roles, it's probably not his best but he turns in an admirable performance.

  • Renee (SteelerGirl83) January 6, 2013 at 2:45 AM

    I know! O. M. Friend still gives me the creeps! I was just talking the other day about the schoolmaster (played by David Morrissey) the other day! *shivers* Morrissey does creepy characters very well…but then again he does nice characters well too. I loved him in Sense and Sensibility LOL!


    • Rissi January 6, 2013 at 5:25 AM

      Here's my issue with creepy characters and good actors: I saw Morrissey in 'Friend' prior to "S&S" so it was hard to accept him as the wonderful character played by the marvelous Alan Rickman. Likewise I saw the 80's version of 'Pimpernel' well before seeing this adaptation of David Copperfield though in the latter instance, it was alright because I saw Andrews in such a "good" role first – had it been the other way around, it would have been AWFUL! As it stands now, Morrissey has grown on me a lot since that first viewing – but boy, does he do creepy well! *SHIVERS*

  • Renee (SteelerGirl83) January 7, 2013 at 4:15 AM

    Hahaha well don't watch The Walking Dead. My brother watches it and I happened to walk in while he was watching it and discovered that Morrissey plays a very creepy "governor" of a zombie-free town, not to mention he has an American accent which is just plain weird…. I definitely understand your issue. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to handle Benedict Cumberbatch as a villain in the new Star Trek film. I <3 him as Sherlock way too much! ;-)


    • Rissi January 8, 2013 at 2:07 AM

      I'll remember that, Renee! Not a big fan of zombies/vampires anyway but that could have been horrible. :D Morrissey does do "creepy" quite well though…

      That's right, Sherlock is to play a villain!? *gasp* What is this world coming too!? Not sure if I'll see that film or not since I haven't watched the first one but if I do, all I can say is, I sure am glad I saw 'Sherlock' first! :D

    • Charity January 11, 2013 at 4:54 PM

      Watch the first Star Trek movie first, if you decide to watch the sequel. It's… well, it's the best sci-fi film in years.

    • Rissi January 11, 2013 at 11:07 PM

      That's good to know. I've seen it at the video store but since I am not a 'Trekkie' it never appealed to me.

  • birdienl January 9, 2013 at 8:47 PM

    I really love this David Copperfield adaptation, but I have not watched other DC adaptations (yet) so can't really compare. Hmmm, must really rectify that! Next to Hugh Dancy I really loved Sally Field in the role of Aunt Betsy in here.

    • Rissi January 10, 2013 at 2:54 AM

      You and I both, Birdienl! It's more focused on "pretty theatrics" than the gritty drama but that doesn't matter to me! The other one I own is the BBC/Masterpiece Theatre version that runs about the same time as this. For some reasons I prefer it and for other scenes/moments, I like this one better.

      Sally Field is hysterical! She plays the part fabulously. :)


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