Who's who in The Personal History of David Copperfield?

Charles Dickens and film adaptations are a match made in heaven – in fact, there have been more than 400 big and small screen adaptations of the esteemed author’s work to date, which is a clear indication of how much his writing continues to resonate.

This January, a new Dickens movie is hitting Cineworld: The Personal History of David Copperfield. Directed by Armando Iannucci, best known as the co-creator of Alan Partridge and The Thick of It, this period comedy-drama has already done the rounds at various festivals and has generated a lot of buzz for its writing, humour and acting.

Like most Dickens stories, David Copperfield features a lot of characters – the lengthy novel, which Dickens regarded as his personal favourite, was originally serialised from 1849 to 1850, and is stuffed with memorable creations. So let’s introduce you to this memorable Dickens ensemble…

Dev Patel is David Copperfield

Taking on the role of the title character (and our narrator) in this classic coming-of-age story is Dev Patel. He started out on classic teen show Skins (2007-2008), but has really taken the world by storm in Hollywood, having starred in Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire (2008), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011), Lion (2016), Hotel Mumbai (2018) and more.

David, like most of Dickens protagonists, hasn’t had the best of starts in life. His father passes away before he’s born, his mother dies while he’s young, and he’s passed around various relatives and friends trying to figure out where he belongs in the world as he grows older.

The character of David was designed as a stand-in for Dickens himself, enduring all manner of hardships, heartaches and triumphs, and it's this element that makes the novel the most personal of all Dickens' works.

Dev Patel in The Personal History of David Copperfield

Tilda Swinton is Betsey Trotwood

One of David’s relatives is his aunt, Betsey Trotwood, his who is widely regarded as one of the best characters from the novel. By turns acerbic, quirky and kind-hearted, the character of Betsey is perfect for the mercurial Swinton, who has built a reputation for playing somewhat eccentric individuals.

Want proof? Just take a look at some of Swinton’s most famous roles: Doctor Strange (2016), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Snowpiercer (2013), We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) are just some of them.

Tilda Swinton in The Personal History of David Copperfield

Hugh Laurie is Mr Dick

Living with Betsey Trotwood is the loyal and kind Mr Dick, a man often underestimated by those around him, although Betsey is quick to recognise his strengths.

And of course you’ll recognise British comedy veteran Hugh Laurie from the likes of Blackadder and his collaborations with Stephen Fry, not to mention his stint on TV hit House and 2016 BBC smash The Night Manager.

Hugh Laurie in The Personal History of David Copperfield

Peter Capaldi is Mr Micawber

Mr Wilkins Micawber is a generous man who meets David when he’s young, taking him in and looking after him. However, Micawber and his family are blighted by financial debt and compelled to live a somewhat itinerant lifestyle, repeatedly crossing paths with David as he comes of age. Nevertheless, Micawber remains eternally optimistic in the face of enormous difficulty, inspiring David in the process. 

Actor Peter Capaldi has of course worked with Iannucci before, embodying hilariously ferocious press officer Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It and its movie spin-off In The Loop (2009). And he’s got past form playing noble, virtuous characters too: he portrayed Doctor Who from 2013 to 2017.

Peter Capaldi in The Personal History of David Copperfield

Ben Whishaw is Uriah Heep

Uriah Heep is one of the most unpleasant characters in David Copperfield, and remains one of Dickens’ greatest villains. Introduced as a creepy, sycophantic legal clerk, the ostensibly ‘humble’ Heep develops hatred towards David and most of David’s friends and relatives throughout the story, making life difficult for everyone he meets.

Interestingly, he’s played by Ben Whishaw who usually portrays heroic characters. He’s famous for voicing Paddington in the 2014 and 2017 movies, and has also played Q in Bond films Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015). We can’t wait for him to do justice to this famously hideous Dickens creation.

Ben Whishaw in The Personal History of David Copperfield

Paul Whitehouse is Mr Peggotty

Another one of David’s friends is kind and helpful Mr Peggotty, played by Harry Enfield’s regular collaborator (and The Fast Show scene-stealer) Paul Whitehouse. The actor reunites with Iannucci following critically acclaimed Stalinist satire The Death of Stalin (2017).

Paul Whitehouse in The Personal History of David Copperfield

Aneurin Barnard is James Steerforth

Steerforth is a rich and handsome friend of David’s, who meets our protagonist when he’s at school. With no sympathy for the poor and an attitude of snobbery inherited from his mother, Steerforth is in fact quite a damaging presence in David’s life – however, our hero’s affection for his school chum makes him blind to Steerforth’s imperfections.

You may recognise Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard from the BBC’s War & Peace (2016), Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk (2017) and, more recently, literary adaptation The Goldfinch (2019).

Aneurin Barnard in The Personal History of David Copperfield

Benedict Wong as Mr Wickfield

Wong, familiar from Doctor Strange (2016), The Martian (2015) and Annihilation (2018), plays a widowed father and David’s teacher Mr Wickfield, who also has a big impact on the title character as he advances into adulthood.

Benedict Wong in The Personal History of David Copperfield

Gwendoline Christie as Jane Murdstone

The imperious Miss Murdstone is another scheming Dickens villain, who inveigles her way into David’s life at the very start when her equally ruthless brother makes David’s mother his bride.

Jane is played by Gwendoline Christie, most famous for her role as Brienne in the recently concluded Game of Thrones, not to mention the recent Star Wars movies (in which she played Captain Phasma).

Gwendoline Christie in The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Personal History of David Copperfield is released in Cineworld cinemas on the 24th of January. Let us know @Cineworld if you’re planning to watch it.

Nadine Shambrook is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team. Follow her on Twitter