THE BBC Film critic Mark Kermode recently tweeted about his despair on the comments that followed his five-star review of the recently released film: The Personal History of David Copperfield. “Good lord,” Kermode wrote “the cesspit of whingebagging closet-racists… who consider it their duty to pass judgement on David Copperfield’s inclusive casting has left me longing for Star Wars nerds.”

The British American comedy-drama written and directed by Armando Iannucci is loosely based on Charles Dickens’ Victorian–era novel and stars Dev Patel in the title role. As Patel predicted when he was offered the role, the decision by the film’s producer and director to employ colour-blind casting has led to the kind of debate Kermode bemoaned in his tweet.

In a recent interview Patel praised the “brave” decision to employ colour-blind casting saying: “It feels strange calling it a bold move, but it does require a lot of bravery. When I first met Armando, I said ‘Are you sure, because you’re going to have to defend this decision, more than casting any other actor.’ Iannucci replied: ‘Absolutely, I want to be able to draw on 100 per cent of the acting community in England. You watch theatre and you never question it? Why can’t film be like that?’”

The Northern Echo:

Arun Arora

The debate around David Copperfield follows close on the heels of the actor Laurence Fox complaining about the Oscar nominated First World War film 1917 for “forcing diversity” because of the inclusion of a turbaned Sikh soldier in the trenches.

Fox subsequently apologised after being informed that up to 75,000 Sikh soldiers died fighting for Britain during the First World War and that one soldier in every six in the British Army at the time was drawn from the Indian regiment.

The Northern Echo:

David Copperfield makes no claims at historical accuracy in its telling of Charles Dickens’ tale. Rather Iannucci and Patel have talked about making the Dicken’s novel and its telling more accessible to people for whom period dramas have felt exclusionary. More than that both argue that inclusive/colour-blind casting is freeing in that the telling and retelling of stories needn’t be limited in proclaiming them afresh. Debates around whether Jodie Whittaker could play Doctor Who have moved on to the quality of the storylines and scripts rather than to the gender of the protagonist, whilst Glenda Jackson’s magnificent portrayal of King Lear last year – which I was fortunate enough to see – underscored the imaginative possibilities that can open up when imagination is truly set free.

It’s too early to tell whether David Copperfield will set a trend or remain an outlier but whatever the outcome Mark Kermode, at least, is clear in his assessment: “It really is a wonderfully entertaining film, managing to both respect and reinvent the novel from which it takes its lead, creating something new and exciting in the process.”

Perhaps the last word should go to Hugh Laurie who plays Mr Dix in the film:

“What I hope is within a minute or two, or even earlier, seconds of the film starting, you don’t even think about it, because it’s just not relevant.”