The Personal History of David Copperfield

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The Personal History of David Copperfield
The Personal History of David Copperfield poster.jpg
British theatrical release poster
Directed byArmando Iannucci
Screenplay by
Based onDavid Copperfield
by Charles Dickens
Produced by
CinematographyZac Nicholson
Edited by
Music byChristopher Willis
Distributed by
Release date
  • 5 September 2019 (2019-09-05) (TIFF)[1]
  • 24 January 2020 (2020-01-24) (United Kingdom)
  • 28 August 2020 (2020-08-28) (United States)
Running time
119 minutes[2]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States[3]
  • Greece
Budget$15.6 million[4]
Box office$14.2 million[5][6]

The Personal History of David Copperfield is a 2019 comedy-drama film written and directed by Armando Iannucci, based on the 1850 Victorian era novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. It stars Dev Patel as the title character, along with Aneurin Barnard, Peter Capaldi, Morfydd Clark, Daisy May Cooper, Rosalind Eleazar, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw and Paul Whitehouse.

The world premiere was at the Toronto International Film Festival on 5 September 2019. It was theatrically released in the United Kingdom on 24 January 2020 by Lionsgate UK and in the United States on 28 August 2020 by Searchlight Pictures.[7]


David Copperfield is born to his mother Clara, who was widowed before her son's birth. He has an idyllic life. David visits the family of his nanny Peggotty in their (upturned) boathouse in Yarmouth as a child. When he returns, he finds out Clara has married the sinister and cruel Mr. Murdstone. David is bullied by his new stepfather and step-aunt. When Murdstone harasses Clara, David tries to defend her, but is beaten by Murdstone, who sends him to work in Murdstone's factory in London where he lodges with the Micawbers, who are pursued by their creditors.

A few years later, David is now a young man still working at Murdstone's factory. He has been jotting quotes by people important in his life down on pieces of paper. The Micawbers are driven out of their house by bailiffs, who also seize their possessions. David is told of his mother's death and funeral, wreaks havoc in the factory, and finding out that his aunt Betsey Trotwood is his only living relative, goes back to Dover where he finds his wealthy aunt and her lodger, the eccentric Mr. Dick, who has an obsession with King Charles I's head. He thinks that when Charles was executed, the King's troubled thoughts took up residence in his own mind. He, like David, jots them down on pieces of paper.

David helps Mr. Dick clear his mind by transferring these papers to a kite which Mr Dick then flies. David also meets Mr. Wickfield, Betsey's accountant, and his daughter Agnes. To continue his studies, David is admitted to a school for boys, where he meets James Steerforth. David has a boxing match with a local thug who mocks him and Steerforth, and is knocked out in two punches, knowing almost nothing about boxing. Wickfield's clerk Uriah Heep invites him for tea with his mother. Mr. Micawber briefly joins the school as a teacher, but is exposed by Steerforth and is shown the door.

David goes to Uriah's house for tea, as he had promised a few days earlier. Uriah tries to blackmail him with the knowledge he gained of David's past. Later, David finds out Uriah has been hired as an assistant to Mr. Wickfield at his firm and is attempting to court Agnes. There is a farewell party at the boys' school, where David meets Steerforth's mother and a girl named Dora Spenlow, whom he falls in love with. He is hired as a trainee lawyer in Mr Spenlow's law firm in London. There he lives the life of a 'young gentleman', and courts Dora.

His aunt Betsey turns up unexpectedly at his London lodgings with Mr. Dick: she tells him she has been ruined, and they all decamp to a slum dwelling. David visits Pegotty's house with Steerforth. Pegotty's adopted daughter Emily runs away with Steerforth, leaving her fiancé and childhood 'brother' Ham. Mr. Micawber is now living on the streets with his family and has pawned his concertina, which he asks Mr. Dick to buy back. However, when Mr. Dick is given a price of a pound for the concertina, he tricks the shopkeeper and steals it. The Micawbers are then given shelter by Betsey Trotwood and Mr. Dick.

Agnes tells David, Micawber, Betsey, and Mr. Dick that she wants a letter written by Mr. Wickfield to use as evidence against Uriah, who she knows is doing something corrupt. David, Agnes and others confront Uriah, who had been embezzling funds from the firm by forging Mr. Wickfield's signature on documents. One of these had robbed Betsey Trotwood of her fortune. Wickfield then dismisses Uriah from his firm. Dora calls off her engagement with David, asking him to write her out of his book. Emily, who had run away with James Steerforth, is spotted in London by the Pegotty family. She tells them and David that Steerforth had abandoned her in France, but would return the following day to Yarmouth.

There is a storm at sea and the boat with Steerforth is about to be wrecked on the Yarmouth beach. Ham swims out to it on a line, but Steerforth refuses to be rescued and is drowned. Emily and Mrs. Steerforth mourn his death and David realises he is in love with Agnes. David finishes writing his book. It is published, and is a great success, critically and financially. David buys the house back, Betsey and Mr. Dick move back into it, Mr. Micawber appears to have acquired some form of financial stability, and David and Agnes are married and have a daughter.



Filming took place in Bury St Edmunds in July 2018

It was announced in February 2018 that Armando Iannucci would be writing, directing, and producing a new adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel. Iannucci wrote the screenplay with co-writer Simon Blackwell.[8] Dev Patel was cast in the title role later that month.[9] In April, the supporting cast was added, which included Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Aneurin Barnard, Ben Whishaw and Morfydd Clark.[10] In May 2018, Peter Capaldi was cast to play Mr. Micawber and pre-production was underway.[11]

Filming began in June 2018 in Norfolk and Suffolk, with Gwendoline Christie, Benedict Wong, Paul Whitehouse, and Daisy May Cooper joining the cast.[12][13] Scenes were shot in Hull,[14][15] Bury St Edmunds,[16] Weybourne[17] and King's Lynn in July.[18][19] Aimee Kelly was added to the cast the same month.[20] Principal photography on the film concluded in August 2018.[21] In filming David Copperfield, it became the first theatrical film production of the novel in 50 years.[22]


The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on 5 September 2019,[23] followed by its European premiere on 2 October 2019, acting as the opening film of the 63rd BFI London Film Festival.[24] It was the Surprise Film at the 39th Cambridge Film Festival. It was released in the United Kingdom by Lionsgate UK on 24 January 2020.[25] Searchlight Pictures acquired distribution rights for the United States and scheduled the release on 8 May 2020.[26][27] However, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cinema, it was theatrically released later on 28 August 2020.[28]


Box office[edit]

The Personal History of David Copperfield has grossed $1.9 million in the United States and Canada, and $12.3 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $14.2 million,[5] against a production budget of $15.6 million.[4]

In the United States, it debuted $520,000 from 1,360 theaters.[29] Playing in 1,550 theaters the following weekend it fell 24% to $361,000.[30]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 92% based on 245 reviews, with an average rating of 7.6/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "The Personal History of David Copperfield puts a fresh, funny, and utterly charming spin on Dickens' classic, proving some stories truly are timeless."[31] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 77 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[32] PostTrak reported that 74% of audience members gave the film a positive score, with 50% saying they would recommend it.[29]

Writing for The Observer, Mark Kermode awarded the film a full five stars and stated: "It really is a wonderfully entertaining film, managing to both respect and reinvent the novel from which it takes its lead."[33]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
British Independent Film Awards 1 December 2019 Best British Independent Film Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell & Kevin Loader Nominated [34][35]
Best Actor Dev Patel Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Hugh Laurie Won
Best Supporting Actress Tilda Swinton Nominated
Best Screenplay Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell Won
Best Casting Sarah Crowe Won
Best Cinematography Zac Nicholson Nominated
Best Costume Design Suzie Harman and Robert Worley Won
Best Editing Mick Audsley and Peter Lambert Nominated
Best Make Up & Hair Design Karen Hartley-Thomas Nominated
Best Production Design Cristina Casali Won
London Film Week Awards 1 December 2019 Best Film Armando Ianucci Nominated
Best Screenplay Armando Ianucci and Simon Blackwell Won
British Academy Film Awards 2 February 2020 Best Casting Sarah Crowe Nominated
Boulder International Film Festival Awards 5 March 2020 Best Feature Film Armando Iannucci Won
European Film Awards 12 December 2020 Best Production Designer Cristina Casali Won
St. Louis Film Critics Association Awards Best Production Design Cristina Casali Nominated
Satellite Awards 15 February 2021 Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical Nominated [36]
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical Dev Patel Nominated
Best Costume Design Suzie Harman and Robert Worley Won
Best Art Direction and Production Design Cristina Casali and Charlotte Dirickx Nominated
Golden Globe Awards 28 February 2021 Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical Comedy Dev Patel Nominated [37]
Hollywood Critics Association Awards 5 March 2021 Best Comedy/Musical Nominated [38][39]
Best Costume Design Suzie Harman and Robert Worley Won
Best Production Design Cristina Casali Nominated
Critics’ Choice Movie Awards March 7, 2021 Best Costume Design Suzie Harman and Robert Worley Nominated [40]
Best Production Design Cristina Casali and Charlotte Dirickx Nominated
Casting Society of America April 15, 2021 Feature Big Budget – Comedy Sarah Crowe Nominated [41]


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  2. ^ "The Personal History of David Copperfield". BBFC. Retrieved 21 October 2019.
  3. ^ "The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)". BFI.
  4. ^ a b Gant, Charles (19 December 2019). "Armando Iannucci on 'David Copperfield': "it's a celebration of what I feel Britain is"". Screen Daily. Retrieved 29 December 2019.
  5. ^ a b "The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  6. ^ "The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)". The Numbers. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  7. ^ Rubin, Rebecca (July 23, 2020). "'Star Wars' Films, 'Avatar' Sequels Pushed Back a Year in Disney Release Calendar Shakeup". Variety. Retrieved July 23, 2020.
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  10. ^ Kroll, Justin (26 April 2018). "Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie Join Dev Patel in 'David Copperfield' (EXCLUSIVE)".
  11. ^ Mitchell, Robert (8 May 2018). "Peter Capaldi Re-Teams With Armando Iannucci for 'David Copperfield'".
  12. ^ Pochin, Courtney (10 May 2018). "David Copperfield adaptation starring Dev Patel and Tilda Swinton to be filmed in Norfolk". Eastern Daily Press. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  13. ^ "Gwendoline Christie, Benedict Wong, Paul Whitehouse join Armando Iannucci's 'David Copperfield' (exclusive)".
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  15. ^ Robinson, Hannah (8 July 2018). "Full list of roads that will close as major British movie is filmed in Hull". Hull Live. Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  16. ^ Derrick, Paul (3 July 2018). "PICTURES: David Copperfield film prepares to shoot scenes in Bury St Edmunds today". Bury Free Press. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  17. ^ Bethell, Karen (18 July 2018). "Dev Patel spotted filming scenes for David Copperfield movie on Norfolk beach". Eastern Daily Press. Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  18. ^ Ali, Taz (7 June 2018). "Purfleet drained ahead of Dickens film adaptation". Lynn News. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  19. ^ "Dozens line the streets to watch star-studded cast shoot major movie". Eastern Daily Press. 19 July 2018. Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  20. ^ N’Duka, Amanda (31 July 2018). "Carrie Preston To Star In 'Avalanche'; Taryn Manning Set For 'The Haunting of Nicole Brown Simpson'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  21. ^ Blackwell, Simon (9 August 2018). "Today is the last day of principal photography on our David Copperfield film". Twitter. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  22. ^ Clarke, Donald (26 February 2019). "What will win the 2020 best picture Oscar? Probably one of these". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2019-03-18.
  23. ^ Lang, Brent (July 23, 2019). "Toronto Film Festival: 'Joker,' 'Ford v Ferrari,' 'Hustlers' Among Big Premieres". Variety. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  24. ^ "European premiere of Armando Iannucci's The Personal History of David Copperfield to open 63rd BFI London Film Festival". BFI. 16 July 2019. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  25. ^ "'The Personal History of David Copperfield' will be released in cinemas across the UK on 24th January 2020!". The Arts Shelf. 15 October 2019. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  26. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (August 22, 2019). "Fox Searchlight Makes North American Rights Deal For 'The Personal History Of David Copperfield' Before Toronto & London Fest Bows". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 22, 2019.
  27. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (4 November 2019). "'The Personal History Of David Copperfield' Hitting Theaters In Early Summer 2020". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 4 November 2019.
  28. ^ Rubin, Rebecca (2020-07-23). "'Star Wars' Films, 'Avatar' Sequels Pushed Back a Year in Disney Release Calendar Shakeup". Variety. Retrieved 2020-07-23.
  29. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 28, 2020). "'New Mutants' Takes In $3M+ On First Day; Best Friday At The B.O. To Date During Pandemic". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 29, 2020.
  30. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (September 6, 2020). "'Tenet' Finally Opens Stateside: Warner Bros. Movie Resuscitates Exhibition With $20M+ Over Labor Day Weekend, $150M WW To Date". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved September 6, 2020.
  31. ^ "The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  32. ^ "The Personal History of David Copperfield Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  33. ^ Kermode, Mark (2020-01-26). "The Personal History of David Copperfield review – Iannucci makes Dickens his own". The Observer. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-01-30.
  34. ^ Dalton, Ben (30 October 2019). "'The Personal History Of David Copperfield', 'Wild Rose' head 2019 BIFA nominations". Screen Daily. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  35. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (1 December 2019). "BIFA Winners: 'For Sama', 'The Personal History Of David Copperfield', Renée Zellweger Among Victors". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  36. ^ Van Blaricom, Mirjana (February 1, 2021). "25th Satellite Awards Nominees for Motion Pictures and Television Announced". International Press Academy. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
  37. ^ Oganesyan, Natalie (February 3, 2021). "Golden Globes 2021: The Complete Nominations List". Variety Magazine. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  38. ^ Menzel, Scott (2 February 2021). "The 4th Annual HCA Film Awards Nominations Have Been Announced". Hollywood Critics Association. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  39. ^ Bosselman, Haley (6 March 2021). "'Promising Young Woman' Sweeps Hollywood Critics Association Awards". Variety.
  40. ^ Davis, Clayton (2021-02-08). "Critics Choice Awards: 'Mank' Leads With 12 Nominations, Netflix Makes History With Four Best Picture Nominees". Variety. Archived from the original on 2021-02-08. Retrieved 2021-02-11.
  41. ^ Pedersen, Erik (February 19, 2021). "Artios Awards Film Nominations: 'Borat', 'Da 5 Bloods', 'Chicago 7', 'One Night In Miami' & More Up For Casting Society Prizes". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on February 20, 2021. Retrieved February 28, 2021.

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