Filming The Personal History of David Copperfield in Bury St Edmunds
Filming The Personal History of David Copperfield on Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds. Video: Sue Warren
Hundreds of extras, horse drawn carriages, directors, producers and film crew descended on Bury St Edmunds in July 2018, turning Angel Hill into a stunning film set for The Personal History of David Copperfield. Among them Director Armando Iannucci and star of the film Dev Patel.
'The Personal History of David Copperfield', which was released in 2019, boasted a stellar cast featuring Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, and Peter Capaldi. A fresh and distinctive take on Charles Dickens' semi-autobiographical masterpiece, The Personal History of David Copperfield, set in the 1840s, chronicles the life of its iconic title character as he navigates a chaotic world to find his elusive place within it. From his unhappy childhood to the discovery of his gift as a storyteller and writer.
The film used several East Anglian towns including Kings Lynn and Great Yearmouth as well as Bury St Edmunds. Angel Hill, Athenaeum Lane and Chequers Square were transformed and taken back in time to the 1840s with filming contuining inside the UKs oldest Regency theatre, the Theatre Royal the following two days.
For Bury St Edmunds it was as if the town had gone back in times to the days when The Angel Hotel was a coaching inn. Charles Dickens himself stayed at The Angel three times and gave readings in The Athenaeum next door. Bury St Edmunds itself is featured in David Copperfield and The Pickwick Papers. One of the Bury St Edmunds Tour Guides Mike Dean was even an extra!
Producer Kevin Loader said that originally they hadn't thought of using Suffolk as a location but were visiting locations where David Copperfield was set or Dickens had visited. “But, when we saw Angel Hill and The Athenaeum we knew we just had to use it. Also, I have never seen a more impressive coaching inn than The Angel Hotel, it’s huge and it looks just perfect for what we need.”
Director Armando Iannucci told BBC Look East: “Bury St Edmunds gave us a big sort of open square and a coaching inn that we made into central London and the theatre there is a genuine 1830s theatre do that was great because the film opens with the old David Copperfield telling his story to an audience in a packed theatre and that was fantastic.
“It was great to see the crowds come out in Bury St Edmunds and in Kings Lynn where we recreated as much as we could what those places looked like in the 1840s. It was great to see schools come out and watch as a bit of a history lesson for them to see their surroundings turn into a show and tell.”
Dev Patel 'on set' on Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds. photo: Rebecca Austin
Angel Hill was transformed into the 1860s and was awash with hundreds of extras and film crew!
Filming took place outside The Angel Hotel on Angel Hill where in real life Charles Dickens stayed in 1835, 1859 and 1861 in room 215, now known as the Charles Dickens Suite. The film was released, 185 years after Dickens first stayed in Bury St Edmunds!
Whilst many historic features are still present in the town today, to create the authentic 'Dickens' look, Angel Hill was closed off to cars, and replaced with horses, carts and carriages. Modern day signage was also removed, including the Charles Dickens blue plaque on The Angel Hotel, which marks his numerous stays at the hotel.
Film crews took over Angel Hill and took it back in time to the 1840s
The front of The Athenaeum, where Charles Dickens gave readings of his books in 1859 and 1861, was transformed into the front of a theatre.
Oscar Wilde, The Rev Charles Kingsley, author of Westward Ho and The Water Babies, as well as W M Thackeray, author of Vanity Fair, also gave readings at The Athenaeum in the 1800s.
The thunder of horse and carriages down Angel Hill and Crown Street took Bury St Edmunds back to its Victorian days!
Over 30 horses came to Bury St Edmunds for filming!
Signs were removed and hidden, including the plaque marking Charles Dickens stay at The Angel, and new signs put up for the filming.
Including this sign for The Dora's Head in Chequer Square! An important part of the film but no spoilers!
To the town's delight the first official photo released featured for the movie was of Dev Patel in costume in Churchgate Street, Bury St Edmunds.
Visitors now recreate that infamous shot when they visit Bury St Edmunds!
Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
The cast and crew spent two days filming at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Photo: Dean Rogers, courtesy of Lionsgate UK
Dev Patel as David Copperfield reappears throughout the movie on stage at a theatre. Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds is that theatre!
Built in 1819 the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds is the last surviving example of a working Regency playhouse in the country. The theatre offers behind the scenes tours throughout the year including the chance to step on stage! The theatre was designed by renowned architect William Wilkins – also famous for designing the National Gallery and University College London. Why not take in a show while you are in Bury St Edmunds?
In the film David Copperfield is a writer and in one scene he goes to the theatre with some rather raucous friends!
The cast and crew spent two days filming at the theatre taking out the more modern seating and replacing with benches as it would have looked in the 1840s! The cast filmed on stage, in the auditorium and in the corridors leading to the dress circle.
Producer Kevin Loader said that the discovery of a period theatre in Bury St Edmunds clinched the deal.
During filming he said: “Today, we are filming the young David Copperfield’s arrival in London with all the carriages and horses moving about on Angel Hill. Then, at the end of the week, we are spending two days shooting at The Theatre Royal shooting two sequences which will bookend the movie.
“David Copperfield is a very biographical novel, so David is a writer and in one scene he goes to the theatre with some rather raucous friends and in a scene towards the end of the film he is reading extracts from his novels from the stage, on one of his reading tours.”
Dev Patel as David Copperfield on stage at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds for the movie's opening scenes. Photo: Dean Rogers, courtesy of Lionsgate UK.
The official trailer for the movie The Personal History of David Copperfield filmed in Bury St Edmunds - look out for The Angel and Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds!
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