Charles Dickens wrote big novels: big novels that were serialized for up to a year at a time in magazines, then published on their own in editions that ran hundreds and hundreds of pages. They were full of large themes and eccentrically rendered characters drawn from life -- indeed, Dickens modeled David Copperfield in no small part, on himself.
Any attempt, then, to reduce one of Dickens' sprawling works into a three-reel movie -- no matter how absurdly long three reels might seem in 1913 -- must inevitably fail. That's what this version of David COPPERFIELD tries to do and it fails. It offers us none of the details of character and reduces the plot to a series of incidents. Micawber is reduced to half a minute of pantomime.
Clearly, this is a type of film that has fallen out of fashion -- it is a visualization of a novel for those already familiar with the novel. It's not a type of movie I favor, so instead we must consider the technical issues of the movie instead.
On that basis, this is a very good film -- for 1911. The camera-work, although static, is composed very well. The seaside sequences are quite beautiful. The sets are wonderfully designed for the era, the costuming exquisite and the actors know their business. The Thanhouser Company, based in New Rochelle, had access to New York's actors to fill out its own house players. So, how to rate a film like this? I give it a score blended from its value on its own and its place in the history and evolution of movies. It's a movie I'm very glad to have seen and if you care, as do I, strongly about such things, you will enjoy it too. For those with a more casual interest in such matters it is, alas, largely a waste of time. Ignore this one. Instead, look at the following year's production of NICHOLAS NICKLEBY which solves most of these problems by ignoring them.
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