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David Copperfield by Charles Dickens audiobook review – starry spin on a classic

Ncuti Gatwa shines as the grown-up David Copperfield. Photograph: BBC/PA

Ncuti Gatwa, Helena Bonham Carter, Toby Jones and more imbue the latest Sam Mendes-produced adaptation of the author’s works with wit, charm and magic

Following last year’s starry adaptation of Oliver Twist, Audible has pushed the seasonal boat out again with a beguiling version of David Copperfield, executive-produced by Sam Mendes and featuring an all-star cast. It opens at The Rookery, where newly widowed Clara (Ebony Feare) gives birth to a boy she names David, after his late father. Here we also meet the donkey-intolerant Betsey Trotwood (a formidable Helena Bonham Carter), who, having been abandoned by her husband as a young woman, dislikes men and is aggrieved to find herself with a nephew rather than a niece.

Fast-forward seven years and Clara reveals she is marrying the tyrannical Mr Murdstone (Richard Armitage), who packs his stepson off to housekeeper Peggotty’s relatives in Great Yarmouth, and then on to boarding school where he befriends the charismatic James Steerforth (Theo James). Thus begins a series of upheavals that punctuate the life of our young protagonist as he leaves boyhood behind.

Ncuti Gatwa, who has recently made his grand entrance in Doctor Who, shines as the grown-up Copperfield on a search for happiness and fulfilment, while Toby Jones is terrific as the eternal optimist Mr Micawber (“Something will turn up!”). Other standout performances include Jack Lowden as the sinister Uriah Heep and Jessie Buckley as the kindly Peggotty. A cinematic sound palette evokes the gentle textures of the seaside and the chaos and clatter of London, making this a series best heard via headphones. Dickens’s labyrinthine story is necessarily streamlined in places, but this adaptation retains the witty, propulsive spirit of the source material.

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