Dickens' classic David Copperfield is reborn on the bustling streets of Bury St Edmunds
PUBLISHED: 17:19 05 July 2018
Bury St Edmunds was transported back in time to the age Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria this week. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke was on set to witness the filming of The Personal History of David Copperfield
There is something magical about a film unit descending on a town. A place which has been very familiar is suddenly transformed into another place.
This was the scene in Bury St Edmunds this week when Angel Hill was cleared of its cars, horse-drawn carriages were placed in their stead and onlookers could be forgiven for thinking they were back in Victorian Britain – particularly as The Athenaeum had been transformed into a period theatre, complete with artfully reproduced advertising hoardings announcing the staging of the comic Restoration drama Black-Eyed Susan, which parodied Britannia ruling the waves.
For one day The Angel Hotel reverted back to its original role as a large coaching inn, one of a very few left in the country. Outside carriages rattle passed, as black-clad passers by scuttle along the pavement and dodge between the trotting horses as they cross the road. This is a bustling scene and it will form an important early scene in Armando Iannucci’s new film The Personal History of David Copperfield, a dramatic as well as comic re-telling of the Charles Dickens classic.
It stars Dev Patel as the eponymous title character with Peter Capaldi as Mr Micawber, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie and Ben Whish.aw
Bury St Edmunds’ Angel Hill is standing in for the packed streets of London in the 1840s and filming captured young David Copperfield’s arrival in London.
Producer Kevin Loader, who has worked with Armando Iannucci on Alan Patridge: Alpha Papa as well as last year’s big hit The Death of Stalin and the Malcolm Tucker political drama In The Loop, is delighted with the Suffolk locations. They are also shooting two days of theatre interiors at Bury Theatre Royal which makes the trip to Bury doubly worthwhile.
He said: “When you are looking for locations you often start where a book is set and a lot of David Copperfield is set in Suffolk. The book is set in Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and villages around there as well as a large part of it in London. When we came to Bury we were amazed by The Angel, I think it is the largest coaching inn that any of us have ever seen, so we are doing our London coaching inn scenes and London street shots here.
“Then we are shooting interiors at the end of the week at the Theatre Royal. We are shooting the theatre with some intricately painted theatrical back drops.”
Dickens came to Bury twice, in 1851 and 1869, on lecture and book reading tours, and the scenes at the Theatre Royal will bookend David Copperfield’s life. “David Copperfield is very autobiographical and much of what happens to the young David also happened to Dickens. So we are shooting a sequence that is in the book which is frequently dropped from many on-screen adaptations when a young David Copperfield, with some drunken friends, goes to a rather raucous performance and then later in life there’s a scene with a lecture on stage.”
The Theatre Royal’s artistic director, Karen Simpson, is delighted that the venue will be reaching a far larger audience than normal. “I am absolutely delighted to have such a major production choose to film at our iconic Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds.
“It has been a pleasure working with the production company and really special to bring such amazing artists and crew to the town. We cannot wait to see the theatre and Bury in the final film next year. 2019 is Theatre Royals 200th anniversary so for it to play a part in a film that will reach an international audience is a fitting tribute to our wonderful theatre.”
Kevin Loader is also delighted to be working with Screen Suffolk, who have provided locations, and in return the production have offered seven locals jobs as runners and location marshals on the production allowing them to make contacts and bolster their cvs.
“This is a very big production we have got 200 people on cast and crew here today because of all the horses, carriages and extras. When we are shooting interiors because it’s on a smaller scale, the crew will be down to about 80.
“These days wherever we go we are trying to encourage local involvement and its important for the film industry that we have talent all over the country and not just in London. There are so many great locations in Britain and so many glorious things to film it’s much better to hire crews locally than to bring people out from London, so its good to help invest in the skills base by offering practical experience.”
Next week the production is moving on to film in Kings Lynn and on the north Norfolk coast.