* "Slum Dog Millionaire" star Dev Patel plays David Copperfield
* Laugh-out loud scenes in Iannucci's version of classic novel
* Says film celebrates vibrancy of British culture and heritage
By Marie-Louise Gumuchian
LONDON, Oct 2 (Reuters) - British satirist Armando Iannucci swaps political comedies for Charles Dickens in "The Personal History of David Copperfield", a comedy-drama adaptation of the literary classic that opens the BFI London Film Festival on Wednesday.
"Lion" and "Slumdog Millionaire" actor Dev Patel takes on the title role of Dickens' much-loved eighth novel, leading a racially diverse cast in the Victorian-era movie.
It begins with Copperfield, a published writer, taking audiences back to the start of his life, with his widowed mother giving birth to him, supported by doting housekeeper Peggotty.
While his early years are filled with love, all changes when his mother re-marries the brutal Mr Murdstone and the young Copperfield is sent to work in a London factory.
From there, he encounters hardships as well as kindness as he seeks to find a place for himself in society, all the time noting down the expressions of people he meets on bits of paper.
"I re-read 'David Copperfield' about 10 or so years ago and it just felt so cinematic and funny and experimental. It felt very modern," Iannucci said after the film's press screening.
"It also speaks of these sort of contemporary issues as well and I just want to get that life and that humour and approach it maybe as if there were no rules as to how you make a costume drama."
The story tackles issues such as poverty, Britain's class system as well as mental illness but Iannucci, who also-co-wrote the screenplay, peppers it with laugh-out loud comedy moments.
"I wanted it to feel that the audience feel that the people they're watching up there are in their present day, this is their modern world," he said, describing Dickens as "an inspiration".
The cast includes Oscar winner Tilda Swinton as Copperfield's donkey-hating aunt Betsey Trotwood, "Howards End" actress Rosalind Eleazar as his friend Agnes and "Doctor Strange" actor Benedict Wong as her father Mr Wickfield.
The creditor-evading Mr Micawber is played by "Doctor Who" actor Peter Capaldi, while "Game of Thrones" actress Gwendoline Christie portrays the cold Jane Murdstone. Emmy-winning Ben Whishaw plays the obsequious villain Uriah Heep and "House" star Hugh Laurie features as Mr Dick.
"I had no plan B. Dev was instantly the person I thought of. I just thought he's David Copperfield and I'm so glad he said yes," Iannucci said.
Glasgow-born Iannucci is best known for his political comedies "The Thick Of It" and "Veep" as well as dark satirical movie "The Death of Stalin".
"I wanted to make something positive ... First of all I wanted to do a film for all generations ... because it is about a life lived," he said of his latest project.
"There's so much of a debate at the moment about what Britain is and what Britain is not and how it's excluding and how it's isolating itself. I wanted to celebrate what I feel Britain is, which is something much more lively and vibrant and cheery - the comedy heritage, the literary heritage, the variety, the arts."
Though smaller than Cannes and Venice, the BFI London Film Festival has its own share of red carpet glamour.
This year's event, which runs until 0ct. 13, includes screenings of Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman", "The Aeronauts" starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as well as Timothee Chalamet's mediaeval coming-of-age tale "The King". (Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian Editing by Gareth Jones)
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