IF all the television and screen adaptations of Dickens’ novels were played one after the other, how many days would it take to watch them? Until the Today programme starts asking sensible questions like that, instead of those tiresome maths queries, we may never know.

Why, then, make another? That the writer-director behind this retelling is Armando Iannucci should be enough on its own to arouse interest. Purveyor of caustic political satires Veep, In the Loop, and Death of Stalin, this seems like odd territory for the Scot.

Then again, few novelists have been as clear-eyed and politically acute as Dickens in portraying injustice and inequality, so there is a fit.

The film begins with Copperfield’s birth. Two very important women in his life are present, apart from his mother: Peggotty the housekeeper (This Country’s Daisy May Cooper) and David’s aunt, Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton). Also there for the happy occasion is adult Copperfield (Dev Patel). Iannucci has started as he means to go on, playing around with time, language and character, all at a hectic pace.

Much has been made, though not by Iannucci, of the film’s “colour blind” casting. It is a testament to the quality of the actors, and an argument in favour of diversity in general, that it is never made a “thing”. No-one comments about it; the characters simply crack on with the tale.

What a story it is, involving life and death, poverty and privilege, love, honour, the struggle to survive, to make the best of things regardless of where you start off.

All the notable characters are there, with Peter Capaldi as the financially incontinent Mr Micawber, Ben Whishaw as the oily Uriah Heep, Hugh Laurie as lovable, loopy Mr Dick. The film won just one Bafta, and it is no surprise it was for casting.

This is a dream of a Dickens line-up. Swinton is outstanding as the donkey-phobic Miss Trotwood and Patel makes a boundlessly enthusiastic Copperfield. Daisy May Cooper should be in every Dickens from now on. Ditto Capaldi.

Where the picture falls down slightly is in the screenplay by Simon Blackwell (Veep, In the Loop, The Thick of It, Peep Show) and Iannucci. While there are no big laughs, the dialogue is witty and light, the pace jaunty, and that is the problem. The film puts characters through the mill of homelessness, child labour, and other horrors, but none of it hits home as it should. The tone remains strangely, jarringly, upbeat.

I did warm to the picture eventually, though I felt like another Dickens character in wanting more: more observation, more laughs, more oomph, just more.