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David Copperfield
DVD cover
Written byAdrian Hodges (from the novel by Charles Dickens)
Directed bySimon Curtis
StarringDaniel Radcliffe
Ciarán McMenamin
Maggie Smith
Pauline Quirke
Alun Armstrong
Trevor Eve
Bob Hoskins
Zoë Wanamaker
Emilia Fox
Oliver Ford Davies
Nicholas Lyndhurst
Imelda Staunton
Ian McNeice
Ian McKellen
Michael Elphick
Dawn French
ComposerRob Lane
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series1
No. of episodes2
Executive producersJane Tranter
Rebecca Eaton
ProducerKate Harwood
Running time185 minutes
Production companyWGBH productions for the BBC
Original release
NetworkBBC One
Release25 December (1999-12-25) –
26 December 1999 (1999-12-26)

David Copperfield is a two-part BBC television drama adaptation of Charles Dickens's 1850 novel of the same name, written by Adrian Hodges. The first part was shown on Christmas Day 1999 and the second part the following day.

The production is the acting debut of Daniel Radcliffe, who later rose to stardom as the title character of the Harry Potter film series, where he collaborated with his David Copperfield co-stars Maggie Smith, Zoë Wanamaker, Imelda Staunton, Dawn French and Paul Whitehouse.

The series was co-produced by BBC America and Boston television station WGBH, and first aired on American television in April 2000, as a feature in the PBS series Masterpiece.[1][2] It won a Peabody Award in 2000.[3]


The original adaptation was written by John Sullivan, the writer of BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses, and would have emphasised the comic aspects of Dickens' novel. The plan was to reunite former stars David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst on-screen, with Jason playing Wilkins Micawber and Lyndhurst in the role of Uriah Heep.[4]

When Sullivan disagreed with the new direction and re-allocation of the adaptation to the BBC's drama department, he left the project, and Adrian Hodges' work was used instead. Lyndhurst remained with this production to play Uriah Heep, and the role of Micawber was taken by Bob Hoskins. Sullivan eventually moved to ITV, where in 2001 he produced a four-part series called Micawber, with Jason in the title role.[4]

Ian McKellen, who plays Mr. Creakle in this adaptation, previously starred as the adult David Copperfield in the BBC's 1966 adaptation of the novel.


Part one

David Copperfield is born in Blunderstone, Suffolk, three months after the death of his father, who was also called David Copperfield. On the night of David's birth, his great-aunt, Betsey Trotwood, arrives at the "Rookery" —the Copperfield family homeand eagerly anticipates the birth of a baby girl. She insists that Clara Copperfield's baby must be called Betsey Trotwood Copperfield, and that she will be her godmother. However, when the delivered child turns out to be a boy, Miss Trotwood is horrified (as her previous experiences with men have all ended badly) and storms out.

David grows up loved and cared for by Clara and their maid, Peggotty. When David turns eight, Clara meets Edward Murdstone, a stern man who takes an immediate dislike to David. Peggotty offers to take David with her to Yarmouth to visit her brother Dan and his family, and he accepts, forming a special bond with Dan's niece, Emily. When they return, David sees, to his horror, that his mother has married Murdstone. Murdstone invites his equally stern sister Jane to live with them, and the two Murdstones quickly dominate the household with their callous personalities. Clara briefly objects to having no say in the affairs of her own house, and Murdstone responds by asserting his authority and disciplining David, while imposing a strict regime upon Clara, David and Peggotty. When Murdstone canes David for falling behind in his studies, David bites him and, as punishment, is sent to Salem House, a boarding school owned by Murdstone's unpleasant friend, Mr Creakle, who is particularly harsh towards David at Murdstone's request. David's only comfort at the school is his friendship with James Steerforth, an older student from a wealthy family, who first defends him from a gang of bullies and then helps him win the respect of other pupils.

David returns home for the holidays and finds that Murdstone has fathered a baby boy with Clara. After the holidays David returns to Salem House, where he is soon informed by Creakle that his mother and half-brother have died, and he returns home for the funeral. Peggotty is dismissed, but becomes engaged to a family friend, Mr. Barkis.

With the Murdstones now in full control of the Rookery and David's future, Murdstone takes David out of school and sends him to work in his factory in London, arranging for David to live with Wilkins Micawber, who treats David like his own son; Micawber is sent to a debtors' prison shortly afterwards. When he is released, he and his family are forced to move to Plymouth, leaving David homeless. David runs away from London to Dover, to find Betsey Trotwood in the hope that she will take him in. Eventually he finds her, and despite her reluctance to have a boy in her house, she takes him in, and writes to inform the Murdstones of his arrival. Over time, David bonds with Betsey's lodger, Mr. Dick, and Betsey herself begins to feel attachment to her great-nephew. When Edward and Jane Murdstone arrive to take David back, Betsey appoints herself David's legal guardian, giving Murdstone a verbal thrashing for their cruelty and angrily ordering him out of her house. They are not seen or heard from again.

David, now going by the first name Trotwood, as required by Miss Trotwood, soon resumes his education at a school in Canterbury. During his time there he lodges with Miss Trotwood's friend, Mr Wickfield, whose daughter Agnes is of a similar age to David. They grow up together as brother and sister. On leaving school, David is apprenticed as a clerk to a lawyer called Mr Spenlow. David meets Mr. Spenlow's daughter Dora and falls in love with her at first sight.

Part two

David sees Agnes at a party in London, where he also sees Uriah Heep, Mr Wickfield's clerk. David tells Agnes of his love for Dora before running into his old friend Steerforth. Uriah tells David of his determination to marry Agnes and warns David not to tell Agnes or her father of his intentions. Soon after, David enjoys an unplanned visit with the Micawbers before visiting Steerforth at his mother's home.

David and Steerforth travel to Yarmouth, where they visit Peggotty and the ailing Mr Barkis, going on to visit the Peggotty family. Dan, Ham, Emily and Mrs Gummidge are still living in the boat house, and Ham is to marry Emily. Emily confides in David that she does not believe herself to be good enough for him, and ignores David's reassurances. David makes one final stop to visit Peggotty and informs her of his plan to marry Dora.

At David's lodgings in London, the Micawbers come for dinner and Micawber reveals that he is now working for Uriah Heep. On returning home that evening, David finds Mr Dick and Miss Trotwood on his doorstep, declaring that she is ruined. David and Dora agree to a secret engagement since he is now without his aunt's financial support. David returns to Canterbury to see the Wickfields and reveals to Mr Micawber that he suspects Heep of trying to take control of Wickfield's business. Heep declares his intention to marry Agnes, and Mr Wickfield responds angrily. The next day, Agnes tells David that her father has apologised to Heep, on whom he is now dependent. Upon David's next visit to Mr Spenlow, he finds that his engagement to Dora has been discovered and is not welcomed by her family. David refuses to give up Dora and tries once again to convince Mr Spenlow of his worthiness, but later discovers him dead from a heart attack.

David visits Yarmouth again after he receives a letter from Peggotty, informing him that Barkis's health is deteriorating and that he will die soon. Barkis eventually dies and leaves £3,000 in his will[5] - the interest on £1,000 to Dan Peggotty and £2,000 to Peggotty.

Ham then tells David that Emily has run off with Steerforth, who has been lodging somewhere in the area and visiting her in secret. Dan begins a search for Emily, which stretches to other parts of Europe. They inform Steerforth's mother and her companion, Rosa Dartle, of his disappearance; the women reply that they will not allow Steerforth to marry Emily. David learns that the late Mr Spenlow is bankrupt and comforts Dora.

David then begins to write and to sell his stories. He introduces Dora to Agnes, and Dora and David get married. They struggle with getting the house in order. David becomes frustrated by Dora's inability to run a household, but decides to adapt himself to her, and their marriage improves. Dora becomes pregnant, only to suffer a miscarriage which leaves her badly weakened and bedridden.

David eventually finds Emily in a London slum where she is being confronted by Rosa Dartle. Dan Peggotty also appears on the scene and promises Emily that they can start a new life in Australia. Emily begs David to take a letter of apology to Ham, but on his arrival at Yarmouth the town is deserted, because a fierce storm is raging and a ship is in peril. Ham attempts to rescue a passenger, who turns out to be Steerforth, but both are drowned.

Back in Canterbury, Micawber reveals that he has uncovered Heep's villainous scheme which has ruined both Mr Wickfield and Betsey Trotwood. Wickfield summons the police and Heep is arrested. In thanks, Betsey Trotwood offers to pay for a fresh start for the Micawbers in Australia, but at the harbour they are faced with a policeman who has a warrant for Mr Micawber's arrest - again for unpaid debts. Betsey Trotwood pays off Micawber's debts, leaving him free to board the boat to Australia. Dan and Emily join the Micawbers on the voyage. Peggotty insists that the news of Ham's death be kept from Emily until she is strong enough to cope. Dan invites his sister to join him in Australia, but she chooses to stay in England with David and Dora. Another passenger on the ship is Heep, one of a group of convicts in chains being loaded for penal transportation.

Dora’s health is declining and then she dies with Agnes at her bedside. In his grief David disappears for three years, during which time he continues to write and has his first two books published.

On David's return to Canterbury, he realizes that he loves Agnes Wickfield. After much prodding, Agnes reveals that she has always been in love with David, and even had Dora's dying approval. They are married and within a few years have two sons. David receives a visit from Mr. Peggotty, back from Australia. He brings news that Emily has made a full recovery and that Micawber has established himself as a successful magistrate and bank manager. The story closes with the birth of David and Agnes's third child - a girl. Betsey Trotwood's wish finally comes true after some 30 years, as David decides that the baby will be christened Betsey Trotwood Copperfield, in honour of her godmother.


Some locations in the story


  1. ^ Boedecker, Hal (16 April 2000). "Dickens Classic Plays Well on PBS". Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on 2 May 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  2. ^ Zahed, Ramin (12 April 2000). "Review: 'David Copperfield'". Variety. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  3. ^ 60th Annual Peabody Awards, May 2001.
  4. ^ a b "ITV creates a Dickens of a problem for the BBC". The Independent. London. 6 May 2000.
  5. ^ The novel was published in 1850. According to the Bank of England's inflation calculator Archived 13 December 2017 at the Wayback Machine, £3,000 back in 1850 is worth £383,928.57 in 2017.