This modern version of Charles Dickens’s classic tale begins with David Copperfield (Dev Patel) relating his life story to an audience. His father died before he was born and his mother, Clara (Morfydd Clark), brings him up as a young gentleman.
As a boy, young David (Ranveer Jaiswal) has his life upended when Clara meets and marries Mr Murdstone (Darren Boyd). Murdstone moves in with his equally cruel and cold sister, Jane (Gwendoline Christie). David is sent away to stay with a maid, Peggotty (Daisy May Cooper), who lives at Yarmouth in an upside-down boat. When David returns home, Murdstone treats him cruelly for not performing well at his studies and sends him to London to work in a bottle-making factory.
In London, David lodges with Mr Micawber (Peter Capoldi), his wife and five children. Micawber ends up in debtors’ prison, and the family is thrown out onto the streets. David’s life takes a series of twists and turns, and his fortunes rise and also fall. Micawber and Peggotty continue to appear throughout David’s fascinating life, as well as other characters, including the sly Uriah Heep.
In the end, David is encouraged to write his story down and thus becomes a writer.
Poverty; loss of a parent; step-parenting; tragedy and triumph; 19th-century England
The Personal History of David Copperfield has some violence. For example:
- Clara screams in pain during labour.
- Murdstone yells at David for not reciting his book properly. David answers him back and Murdstone grabs him by the neck, drags him upstairs and takes him into a bedroom. Thrashing can be heard (but it isn’t shown). David bites Murdstone in the scuffle.
- David walks 23 miles to Dover. Along the way a highwayman robs him.
- Aunt Trotwood yells at a woman and a boy to get their donkeys off her garden. She kicks the woman off the donkey.
- David yells at the donkeys and tells them to move off or he’ll ‘turn them into stew’.
- Jane gets her arm caught in the chopping machine.
- David challenges another young man to a fight. David gets hit a few times and is covered in blood.
- David tells Uriah Heep that he ‘has a mind to throw the cake at him and break a rib’.
- David’s friend, James Steerforth, says that when he was a child he threw a hammer at his mother.
- When Uriah Heep is exposed as a fraud, he starts yelling at everyone. He slaps Aunt Trotwood, who slaps him back. David hits him.
The Personal History of David Copperfield has some sexual references. For example:
- James runs away with Peggotty’s niece Emily, who was engaged to her cousin Ham.
- David falls in love with Dora. They kiss occasionally.
- Agnes Wickfield is in love with David, and they eventually marry.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
The Personal History of David Copperfield shows some use of substances. For example:
- Characters drink quite a lot throughout the story. Mr Wickfield is an alcoholic and always craves a drink. His love of drink is often mentioned.
- Characters drink at various events, like dinners, dinner, galas and so on.
- David and his school friends get drunk at a dinner at his house. They go to a theatre and behave badly.
- David smokes at one point.
Nudity and sexual activity
There is some infrequent mild coarse language in The Personal History of David Copperfield, including ‘damnation’.
Ideas to discuss with your children
The Personal History of David Copperfield is an abridged version of Charles Dickens’s classic novel.
Many of the disturbing incidents from the novel have been removed, which makes this movie more suitable for older children and teenagers. But there are several unpleasant characters and 19th-century England is certainly grim. The story is also quite complex. For these reasons, this movie isn’t recommended for children under 10 years, and we recommend parental guidance for children aged 10-13 years.
These are the main messages from this movie:
- Perseverance will be rewarded.
- Compassion is a great virtue.
- The ability to overcome adversity is important.
Values in The Personal History of David Copperfield that you could reinforce with your children include compassion, kindness, honesty, perseverance, resilience, positivity and endurance.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about issues and questions like the following:
- Life was very difficult in the 19th century. Why did so many people live in such poverty?
- Why is Uriah Heep such a nasty person? What makes people behave in the way that he does?