David Copperfield (1935)

David Copperfield
W. C. Fields and Freddie Bartholomew

'David Copperfield' is a period drama movie set in Victorian England, adapted from the famous novel by Charles Dickens. The adaptation was by English novelist, Hugh Walpole, and the movie was directed by George Cukor. The all-star cast includes W. C. Fields Lionel Barrymore, Edna May Oliver, Basil Rathbone, and Freddy Bartholomew as the young David Copperfield.

When the movie was first released, there were complaints from theater owners about the unusually long running time of 2 hours 13 minutes, but those concerns disappeared when the film became a hit. It was one of MGM's biggest grossing films of the year, making a profit of $686,000 on world rentals of $3million.

The movie was nominated unsuccessfully for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture (losing out to Mutiny on the Bounty), Best Film Editing (for) and Best Assistant Director (for Joseph M. Newman).


Taken from one of one of the world's great novels, the movie tells the story of a boy whose father dies and whose mother remarries a very strict man. David survives a difficult childhood, he is betrayed by false friends, and experiences a brief, tragic marriage. He also finds love and true friendship and grows to be a man made strong by adversity. The movie remains true to the main themes and highlights of the original although with several changes. Some major characters including David's close friend Thomas Traddles, were omitted to keep the running time at around two hours.


In the mid 1930s there were 4 adaptations of Dickens novels at three different studios. MGM's 'A Tale of Two Cities' and 'David Copperfield' were both produced by David Selznick who aspired to bring literary classics to the screen and, true to form, he bombarded Louis B. Mayer, his father in law, with memos on the subject for a year. MGM executives thought the subject too highbrow for popular taste but Selznick used his contractual right and Mayer eventually gave in to the pressure and granted Selznick a $1 million budget to make the film.

Selznick brought in top director George Cukor for the movie and invited English novelist, Hugh Walpole to Hollywood to write the film scenario. Walpole also played the Vicar of Blunderstone, delivering a boring sermon that sends David to sleep.

For the movie, a recreation of 19th century London was designed by Cedric Gibbons on the MGM backlot. The scenes set on top of the white cliffs of Dover outside Aunt Betsey's house were actually filmed at Malibu.


Cukor gathered together a group of brilliant character actors all of whom work together and complement each other well.

Originally Selznick and Cukor wanted an all English cast with the movie shot in England. The budget didn't allow them to film in England but numerous English actors living in Hollywood were cast. The biggest name was American star Lionel Barrymore in the relatively small role of Daniel Peggotty. Charles Laughton was originally cast as Micawber but soon dropped out, uncomfortable in a comic role. It was said at the time that "he looked as though he were about to molest the child." Selznick replaced him by borrowing W C Fields from Paramount for what was his first serious acting role. Fields badly wanted to play the richly comic role of the penniless Mr. Micawber, always confident of something `turning up'. He gave an unforgettable performance, forgoing his usual ad-libs and putting aside his distaste at working with child actors.

MGM wanted to use child star actor, Jackie Cooper, but Selznick and Cukor preferred instead to launch an 8 month long search that led to the casting of English stage child actor, Freddie Bartholomew.

Main Cast

W. C. Fields ... Wilkins Micawber
Freddie Bartholomew ... David Copperfield as a boy
Edna May Oliver ... Betsey Trotwood
Lionel Barrymore ... Dan'l Peggotty
Elizabeth Allan ... Clara Copperfield
Jessie Ralph ... Clara Peggotty
Harry Beresford ... Dr. Chillip
Basil Rathbone ... Edward Murdstone
Hugh Walpole ... the vicar
Herbert Mundin ... Barkis, coachman
John Buckler ... Ham Peggotty
Faye Chaldecott ... Little Emily as a child
Una O'Connor ... Mrs. Gummidge
Violet Kemble Cooper ... Jane Murdstone
Elsa Lanchester ... Clickett
Jean Cadell ... Emma Micawber
Lennox Pawle ... Mr. Dick
Renee Gadd ... Janet, Aunt Betsey's maid
Marilyn Knowlden ... Agnes Wickfield as a child
Roland Young ... Uriah Heep
Frank Lawton ... David Copperfield as a man
Madge Evans ... Agnes Wickfield as a woman
Hugh Williams ... James
Maureen O'Sullivan ... Dora Spenlow
Florine McKinney ... Little Em'ly as a woman
Ivan F. Simpson ... Littimer
Mabel Colcord ... Mary Ann


Director … George Cukor
Producer … David O. Selznick
From the Novel … "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens
Adapted by ... Hugh Walpole
Screenplay … Howard Estabrook and Lenore J. Coffee (uncredited)
Music … Herbert Stothart and William Axt (uncredited)
Cinematography … Oliver T. Marsh
Production Company ... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Distribution Company … Loew's Inc.
Format … B & W
Release Date … January 18, 1935
Running Time … 133 minutes

Academy Awards

No Nominations: