Reimagined with a comedic twist, Armando Iannucci’s flamboyant take on Charles Dickens’ classic The Personal History of David Copperfield hits UK cinemas on 24 January. Starring Dev Patel in the title role, filming took place at locations across England, showcasing some of the country’s most scenic landscapes and impressive buildings. First published in 1850, this epic tale of grit and perseverance is arguably the author’s most autobiographical novel and chronicles the life of David Copperfield as he transforms from impoverished orphan to flourishing writer.
The film features an all-star British cast, including Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, Morfydd Clark, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton and Gwendoline Christie. You can follow in the footsteps of the stars in 2020, or enjoy a number of events being held across the east and south east of England throughout the year to commemorate 150 years since Dickens’ passing, many in locations that the author visited.
Check out the British filming locations used in The Personal History of David Copperfield...
Bury St Edmunds
Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk provides the backdrop for numerous scenes in The Personal History of David Copperfield, including around Angel Hill and the Angel Hotel. A blue plaque adorns the front of the latter to commemorate Dickens’ visits to the town – he first stayed at the hotel in 1835 and the novelist’s quotes can be found on mirrors and artwork throughout the Georgian building.
The Athenaeum events space also features in the new movie, alongside Chequers Square. Dickens gave readings, including one from David Copperfield, at the striking Grade I listed building, which was purposely built for entertaining during the Victorian era. Scenes from the film were also shot in the Theatre Royal, the last operating Regency playhouse in England. You can tour the intimate venue, designed by renowned architect William Wilkins, between February and November and discover many of its original features.
Daily tours of Bury St Edmunds run between April and October and take in its rich history and literary links. From discovering the locations where Dickens stayed to uncovering its ties to the Magna Carta, the tours also explore the legend of St Edmund and the wolf, all in the company of green or blue badge guides. Tours also pass St Edmundsbury Cathedral, a site of worship and pilgrimage for more than 1,000 years, as well as the ruins of the Abbey of St Edmund in the stunning Abbey Gardens. Once one of the largest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in England, the ruins can be accessed through the impressive Abbey Gate, before you discover the shrine to St Edmund - a pilgrimage site that has even been visited by royalty!
The Norfolk market town of King’s Lynn and its picturesque waterfront on the River Great Ouse came alive for filming. Both the 17th century Custom House, an architectural masterpiece from Henry Bell that was built as a merchant’s exchange, and Purfleet’s historic harbour feature in the film. The town was one of the country’s most prominent ports in the 12th century and you can discover an array of historic buildings along its cobbled streets. Guided walks of King’s Lynn reveal more than 900 years of maritime history, taking in its medieval churches and guildhalls, fine houses, secret courtyards and hidden passageways.
Set in the heart of the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the vast expanse of beach near the coastal village of Weybourne provided another backdrop for filming. Follow in David Copperfield’s footsteps as you explore the shingle shores and imposing cliffs on your way to discovering pretty flint cottages, the village’s heritage railway, and an array of wildlife in the Blakeney National Nature Reserve, located a short distance westwards on the coast. The home of England’s largest grey seal colony, this remarkable stretch of coastline features sand dunes and shingle spits, salt marshes and an abundance of plant life. The North Norfolk Railway – known as The Poppy Line – runs both diesel and steam locomotives and offers a range of experiences for you to enjoy in addition to its regular services, providing a relaxing way to explore the region’s spectacular countryside.
Scenes from The Personal History of David Copperfield were also shot among the cobbled streets of Hull’s Old Town on the banks of the River Humber in East Yorkshire. Step back in time amid the historic buildings and narrow alleyways, and discover the Victorian Hepworth Arcade which hosts a number of independent retailers. The city’s Museum Quarter delves into the region’s fascinating past - you can climb aboard a tram at the Streetlife Museum of Transport, set foot in a 1940s High Street and uncover 200 years of transportation history. Stand next to a life-size woolly mammoth at the Hull and East Riding Museum, which details life from prehistoric times through to the Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods and the English Civil War. Alternatively, uncover the city’s seafaring past at the Hull Maritime Museum, a superb collection of models and artworks that explain how Hull became the place it is today.
What else to see and do?
Dickens has ties to a number of locations across Kent, having visited many on his travels. Across the region, you can uncover a dazzling array of period properties, lively festivals and other places with strong literary links…
The Dickens House Museum
Housed in the cottage that provided the inspiration for Dickens’ character Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield, the Dickens House Museum celebrates the novelist’s connections with Broadstairs via an eclectic collection of letters, prints, costumes and other personal items. The building on Victoria Parade overlooks Viking Bay and houses his writing box and a set of impressive prints from one of Dickens’ principal illustrators, H.K Browne. You can also learn about how the building’s former owner, Mary Pearson Strong, provided the inspiration for the famed line in David Copperfield: “Janet! Donkeys!”
The Turner and Dickens walk
For a broader taste of British culture, embark on a four-mile walking route between Broadstairs and Margate. The Turner and Dickens walk follows an ancient path between St Peter’s and St John’s churches, linking the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate with the promenade in Broadstairs outside the Dickens House Museum. Colourful panels created by mosaic artist Martin Cheek can be seen along the route, and you can look out for landmarks including Drapers Windmill, a smock mill dating back to 1845, and Crampton Tower. The gallery, named after artist J.M.W Turner, hosts regular exhibitions and an ever-changing set of works by local artists. From early February, the We Walk – Art and Resistance in the American South will explore the Civil Rights period in the 1950s and 1960s, the first exhibition of its type on British shores.
Broadstairs Dickens Festival
Dickens penned David Copperfield in Bleak House in Broadstairs, and the coastal town on the Isle of Thanet hosts the Broadstairs Dickens Festival annually to celebrate all things related to the author. A packed programme of events from 19-21 June will feature everything from costumed characters to book recitals, musical performances and parades.
Rochester Dickens Festival
Just as in Broadstairs, Rochester celebrates its connections with the renowned novelist at the Rochester Dickens Festival each year. On 13-14 June, a bumper set of events for all the family will mark the 150th anniversary of Dickens’ death, including a fun fair, costume parades, street performances, readings and competitions.