Watched the 1969 made for TV movie of ‘David Copperfield,’ directed by Delbert Mann, written by Jack Pulman, music by Malcolm Arnold. It boasted an absolutely stellar line up, the crème de la crème of British acting talent, starting with Olivier hamming it up unashamedly in the small part of Mister Creakle and, going down the line – Richard Attenborough, Cyril Cusack, Dame Edith Evans, Susan Hampshire, Wendy Hiller, Ron Moody, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson Emlyn Williams, and more. Even the five liners were names. The film evidently won three Emmys plus an award for Outstanding Directional Achievement, plus Outstanding Single Performance by an actor in a leading role - Laurence Olivier! Now, come on, do me a favour pu-lease! His performance as I have said was in my opinion pure ham and, as for it being a leading role, he was on screen for a maximum five minutes. There was also an award for leading actress, Edith Evans.
A reviewer from Chicago on Google has written, ‘Delbert Mann's TV movie of David Copperfield is unique among film adaptations in that it tells the entire story from a series of flashbacks rather than an ongoing narrative. It works extremely well, adds to the emotional punch of the entire story, further illuminates Dickens' wonderful characters and is aided by a haunting musical score by composer Malcolm Arnold.’
Ho-hum…Ho-hum…the movie is a bloody great bore simply because of the way it is written and directed. Why can’t these egoists trust their material and not feel they have to put their indelible stamp on it. Jack Pulman was a well-established writer but then so was Mister Dickens so was it really necessary to try and improve on his work albeit for a different medium? In the opposite camp another reviewer has written, ‘This version of David Copperfield is dreadful from start to finish. I knew we were in for a wasted evening's viewing when a rather silly to the point of embarrassment Attenborough and Olivier camp it up as two baddies. It was all downhill after this. Aunt Betsy was adequate but had none of the eccentric flair she was noted for. The worst of the worst was the producer's choice for Uriah. This was the music hall version of this character, previously and admirably played by Roland Young. And what was all this self-absorbed angst from David? Dickens must have rolled over in his grave to see his favourite child turned into a wimp weeping in his beer.’
The beach the weeping wimp wandered along nursing his painful memories was sinister; littered with its numerous rotten black stumps of wood sticking out of the sand and perfect for moody shots: in close-up, in big close-up, in medium and long shot and shots of only legs and feet, between each one David has one of his flashbacks and each time you’re returned to the beach you want to say, ‘Oh, for god’s sake, Mann, get on with it!’ Early on, at the insistence of aunt Betsy he is joined on the beach by a girl named Agnes who he treats most discourteously. The question at this early stage is who the hell is this Agnes and why should aunt Betsy insist on her travelling all the way up Great Yarmouth to talk to David? We don’t find out until well into the picture.
I stayed with it to the end only because one time friend Nicholas Pennell had the rather nice sympathetic part of Steerforth and David’s friend, Thomas Traddles and I think the film only won its awards because of the impressive cast list.
Nick Pennell came to the public’s notice in The Forsyte Saga and was later for twenty three seasons a leading actor at Stratford, Ontario. I saw him playing the Scottish King when I was there and I am glad to have had the opportunity of seeing him for the last time as he died shortly after and much too young.
The previous evening we watched the spectacular European/Chinese production of Puccini’s opera ‘Turandot’ set in Peking and there is only one word to describe that – Awesome!