Some months later David learns that he is going to get a baby brother or sister, but both Clara and the baby die in childbirth. With David's mother now gone, Miss Murdstone fires Peggotty, and Murdstone says to David, "I'm afraid I've no place for you in my house now. You have a rebellious disposition. It must be conformed to the ways of the working world. It must be bent. Even broken if necessary." And so, Murdstone sends David to London to work and arranges for David's lodging with Mr. Micawber's family. Micawber and David become friends for life. Micawber has a cash flow problem and ends up in debtors prison. After his release the Micawber family leaves London, and David resolves to find his Aunt Betsy Trotwood.
Having been robbed of everything he owns, young David walks all the way to Dover--72 miles. By the time he gets to his aunt's home, his clothes are rags. Although Betsy Trotwood doesn't like boys, she takes pity on poor David and gives him a bath and clean clothes. She then contacts Murdstone, and he and his sister come to Betsy's house to fetch David. Betsy stands up to them, saying she knows how they treated Clara, and how Murdstone broke Clara's heart, how at first he was smooth and silky with her, worshipped her, doted on her little boy. He was to be a father to the boy, and they were all to live together in a garden of roses. "And when you had made sure of her, you began to break her, like a poor bird in a cage, tormented the girl through her boy. You gave her wounds that she died from." Chastened, the Murdstones leave and are not heard from again. Aunt Betsy's stern countenance softens and she embraces David.
Aunt Betsy takes good care of David, and sends him to school in Canterbury, where he meets the Wickfields and that very 'umble and scheming Dickens character Uriah Heep. As a young man, David finally rises above his misfortune and eventually marries Agnes Wickfield.
Fans of Dickens' novel will not be disappointed with the film version of "David Copperfield." It contains nearly all the elements of the novel, including the wonderful, memorable characters that Dickens stuffed his novels with. MGM's casting of the film was inspired. Basil Rathbone is splendid as David's cruel, abusive stepfather. Edna May Oliver as Aunt Betsy, Elizabeth Allan as David's sweet mother, W.C. Fields as Micawber, and Roland Young as Uriah Heep. "David Copperfield" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Assistant Director (Joseph Newman) and Best Film Editing (Robert J. Kern) in 1935. "Mutiny on the Bounty" won Best Picture that year.
"David Copperfield" made a star of Freddie Bartholomew, a young lad from Dublin, Ireland. He went on to appear in such classics as Anna Karenina (1935), Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), and Captains Courageous (1937).
In his autobiography Rathbone wrote that the scene in which he had to thrash Freddie Bartholomew was an extremely difficult one. He was very fond of Freddie, and when the thrashing scene was over, Rathbone took Freddie in his arms and kissed him. "When the picture was released I received good reviews and a very heavy fan mail -- all of it abusive!" (In and Out of Character, p. 138) Rathbone had played the villain so well, that he was now typecast as a villain.
When Rathbone was first offered the role of Murdstone, he refused it, believing that he couldn't play a part he loathed. "You can't play a man who's poison to you." In an interview Rathbone stated "I refused the part of Murdstone five times and finally took it as one takes any desperate chance--with my heart quaking and my fingers crossed. When Rathbone saw the film, he hated the thought that he could look so cruel. "I even hated George Cukor at times--childishly, illogically--for the things he made me do. . . . Whatever credit's due belongs not to me, but to him. . . . He can get anything out of anyone--the tenderest sentiment, the bitterest cruelty. He wanted cruelty from me and he got it." ("It's Cheers for Basil Rathbone Now" Motion Picture, August, 1935, pp. 32, 73, 76)
See more pictures from David Copperfield on Page Two.
Images on this page and page two are from the film "David Copperfield," copyright MGM.