The Personal History of David Copperfield – Marketing Recap

How Searchlight is selling an unconventional take on a classic story.

(Note: Yes, this movie came out last week, but it got missed and I didn’t want to abandon it completely. Anyway, here we are.)

The Personal History of David Copperfield is based on exactly the Charles Dickens book you think it is, but writer Simon Blackwell and director Armando Iannucci have something unusual in store for audiences. While the story follows most of the same beats as the book, the casting and presentation of that story are somewhat unusual.

The core of that is the casting. Dev Patel plays Copperfield, whose life is followed from youth to adulthood. In that time we see him grow and move away from home, lose his mother, move in with his aunt and ultimately achieve his dream of becoming a writer and part of society. Starring alongside Patel are Tilda Swinton, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Laurie, Benedict Wong, Nikki Amuka-Bird and a host of others.

With that cast providing the film a substantial pedigree, the campaign has promised audiences a fun bit of fresh air, a new take on an old story with a fizzy, eclectic energy.

The Posters

Copperfield himself looks out at the camera on the first poster (by marketing agency Creative Partnership) from early October. The gist of the story is shared in the copy “From rags to riches…and back again.” while the floating pieces of paper with drawings on them communicate some of the supporting characters and story points audiences will encounter.

A second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out in February. This one takes a visual approach that’s akin to some of the posters for Terry Gilliam movies, showing a veritable funhouse of elements, from Copperfield in the background behind the curtains to the supporting characters arranged around him. It shows off the inclusive cast, giving the impression of being a stage play of sorts, which works in the context of the film being sold.

The Trailers

Copperfield is leading the audience at a lecture through his childhood history as the first trailer (3.2 million views on YouTube), released in February, begins. He falls in with Mr. Micawber, who helps David learn how to survive on the streets of London. Years later after his mother dies he seeks out the only family he has left, starting a cycle of ups and downs throughout his life mixed with adventure and romance. Iannucci’s sense of humor is on display throughout the trailer, which shows a story that mixes straight ahead retellings of Copperfield’s journey with fantastic elements and more.

Online and Social

Not much beyond the basic collection of the trailer, a poster and a story synopsis on Searchlight Pictures’ page for the film.

Advertising and Publicity

In mid-July it was announced the movie would open this year’s London Film Festival. A few weeks later it was slated for the “Special Presentations” section of the Toronto Film Festival.

Searchlight acquired the movie in mid-August before those festival screenings. Buzz out of Toronto was surprisingly mixed, though most reviews praised Patel’s performance and other aspects of the film. A release date was finally announced in late October, shortly after the movie received 11 BAFTA nominations, including for Patel, Swinton and Laurie.

Searchlight pulled the movie from its release schedule in mid-March in response to the Covid-19 outbreak that was closing theaters and more. It was later rescheduled for August.

The first clip came out in late July showing Copperfield flirting awkwardly, setting a nice tone for the movie and the rest of the campaign. Another has him helping his mentor literally and physically release the thoughts he’s been troubled by while a third has Copperfield finding out the home he’s about to enter is not one that welcomes donkeys.

An exclusive featurette given to AMC has the cast and director talking about the joy of Dickens’ work and the wonderful experience of working on the project. Another featurette from Searchlight covers similar ground, with behind-the-scenes footage mixed in to show the cast at work. A bit more background on the period the story is set in and how the team recreated that in their own way is covered in a third.

Media and Press

As production began Iannucci talked briefly about how he was taking a colorblind approach to casting the movie, not worrying about how the period would have been almost exclusively white. That topic was soundly dismissed by Laurie in an interview that took place during Toronto. How the film was cast without worrying about ethnicity was the subject of another interview with Patel.

Additional profiles of Patel covered how he wasn’t a huge fan of Dickens’ original before beginning production and how he got involved with the project while further interviews with Iannucci had him putting this film in the context of his other films and shows.


What a fresh, breezy campaign Searchlight mounted here. It’s enough to make one wish the movie were coming out at a time when a bigger percentage of the audience was able to make it to theaters in order to see it. Though of course if this were a normal year for movies (or anything else, really) it likely would have been swallowed up in the hype cycle for one of the big genre entries.

While the lack of story details in the campaign is usually a negative, here it doesn’t really matter at all. What’s being sold is a charming little jaunt with a pulsating energy, not a detailed character journey. In that respect it works by putting the story on the backburner and allowing the vibe of the film – propelled by the cast, script and direction – to come through. Even those who may not be willing or able to see it in theaters will likely mark it as one to see at a later date.

Picking Up The Spare

Another featurettte was released that looked at the romantic elements of the movie’s story. 

The Souvenir – Marketing Recap

the souvenir posterAn ill-advised romance forms the crux of the story in this week’s The Souvenir. Honor Swinton Byrne stars as Julie, a film student who wants to find success but is also extremely shy when it comes to taking chances. She’s involved with Anthony (Tom Burke) who lives in the same house as Julie, one owned by Rosalind (Tilda Swinton).

That relationship is one that no one who knows Julie is a fan of. Anthony at first is loving and kind while their romance is secret but becomes more manipulative, cold and secretive as time goes on, a change the unassuming Julie grudgingly accepts because she doesn’t know the way out. Eventually her budding ambition encourages her to take a stand and refuse to be anything but successful.

The Posters

The movie’s only poster just shows the chins and torsos of Julie and Anthony who are standing on the side of their car, their faces only visible in the reflection of the roof. The festival credentials are accompanied by some positive pull quotes from early reviews. It definitely gives off the vibe of the film, even if there’s no copy to further explain things.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off by focusing on the relationship between Julie and Anthony, a relationship they’re successfully keeping hidden from her mother despite him renting a room in their house. She aspires to be a filmmaker and is working toward that, but her drive, as well as other factors, complicates the love affair as Anthony becomes more distant, resentful and difficult. She refuses to be held responsible for his changes, though, and keeps working toward her goals even while trying to maintain the relationship.

Online and Social

Just the basics on the tickets-centric website for the movie, a brief synopsis, the trailer and little else.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing here that I’ve seen, but the studio may have run some targeted ads in the areas where the movie is receiving limited release.

Media and Publicity

Shortly after the movie was announced as one of those premiering at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival it was picked up by A24. Swinton-Byrne was pegged as one of the breakout stars of the festival, though she only reluctantly acknowledged that.

A clip released to Vanity Fair shows the mother/daughter pair sharing a scene.

Director Joanna Hogg was interviewed about the production and the themes of the story she wanted to communicate through the film. Those themes included ones pulled from her own life and experiences decades ago as an aspiring filmmaker. Indeed she became the focus of the publicity campaign close to release as the personal nature of the story became more clear. Also mentioned in that last piece is that a sequel that continues Julie’s – and Hogg’s own – was about to go into production.


How women allow their own identities to be cast in the shadows of men brimming with unearned confidence is a story that doesn’t often make it to film, with a few notable exceptions. Based on the campaign, which sells the movie as an atmospheric art-house drama filled with difficult moods and complex characters, it seems to be the cinematic equivalent of Twitter threads where women recount having their own expertise dismissed by men sure of themselves even if they’re wrong. “Yeah but have you *really* explored the subtext of Fight Club?”

What’s good to see is that the initial focus in the press on the casting of Swinton and her famous mother eventually gave way to how personal this story is for Hogg. It could have easily been sidelined over fears it would make a female filmmaker appear vengeful or too emotional, despite countless male filmmakers working out their issues with women in movies. Allowing Hogg to share her indignation and growth is a powerful hook for the film’s campaign to use as a way to lure audiences.

Picking Up the Spare

More from Hogg on the real events that inspired her in this interview as well as in this joint feature with Swinton Byrne. The director also talked with Martin Scorsese, who served as producer on the film. 

Suspiria – Marketing Recap

suspiria poster 14As if Black Swan wasn’t enough, a dance company is once more positioned as being filled with darkness and terror in Suspiria, the modern remake of the 1970s classic erotic, psychological thriller. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, this version stars Dakota Johnson as Susie Bannion, an talented young dancer vying for a spot in a troupe lead by the enigmatic Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton).

Still set in 1977, Susie soon finds the academy is not what she believed it to be. There are strange hidden hallways, rumors of girls having gone missing and other mysteries. The question is whether or not Susie can believe what she sees and how well she might fit in.

The Posters

There’s not much graphically to the first poster, but the image of an “S” in what might probably be blood on what looks to be a concrete industrial wall certainly hints at some not good things happening in the movie. There’s not much graphically to the first poster, but the image of an “S” in what might probably be blood on what looks to be a concrete industrial wall certainly hints at some not good things happening in the movie. A series of posters used that same image with various lines and phrases inside the “S” including “Give your soul to the dance,” “Let mother take care of you” and more.

That same “S” is shown on another one-sheet, this time more overtly painted in blood, with the title treatment presented in a very disjointed, Saul Bass-esque style.

Character posters featuring Johnson, Goth (that one a Fandango exclusive), Mia Goth, Renee Soutendijk, Angela Winkler, Chloe Grace Moretz and Lutz Ebersdorf.

The theatrical one-sheet uses the same title treatment seen earlier, but this time surrounded by flame-like splatters of blood with the eyes of the characters looking out from the red.

Another series of posters placed a red “S” in the middle of photos of different locations from the story, mostly different offices and rehearsal spaces from around the academy.

More character posters followed that provided different looks at the cast.

Two additional posters presented very tribalistic, takes on the story, showing a six-armed dancer holding a woman’s head in each hand.

The Trailers

Things start out weird in the first trailer and only go more sideways as it goes on. There are shots of people standing in gray, barren fields looking at something slightly off-camera, women dancing tragically, crawling up walls and more, all with a growing dissonant swell of music in the background. The spot contains no dialogue or other means of conveying the plot, it’s all about creating a singularly creepy atmosphere and vibe.

A brief video was released a while later that included on-screen comments from YouTubers about the trailer and how shocking and unexpected it was.

Abandon all hope of understanding what’s happening in the first full trailer, as well as any hope you’ll ever feel normal again. We see Susie enter a dance studio has a hopeful young star, but things get twisted and terrifying quickly has sickles come out, secret doors are unlocked, mysterious journals hint at danger and more. It is a psychological mind-trip being sold here.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with a map of nearby theater locations and prompts to buy tickets for upcoming screenings. You can access other material by clicking the Menu in the upper left corner of the site.

First there is “Intrigue” which seems to just contain a number of positive quotes from early reviews of the film. “Legends” offers a bit of information about the cast, including a collection of photos of each character.

A series of GIFs can be found in “Lessons,” which repeats the entreaty to “Give yourself over to the dance.” The trailers and clips are in “Secrets.” Finally, “Whispers” has a new song from Thom Yorke that’s featured on the soundtrack, along with a link to buy that album.

Links to the movie’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles can be found at the bottom of the site. There was a link on Twitter to Patricia’s Diary, which is only accessible via mobile browsers. That site lets you thumb through the diary kept by the character whose disappearance sets much of the story in motion and which is filled with scribblings and ramblings that sound unhinged but which may mean something.

There were also a collection of official GIFs from the trailers added to Amazon Studios’ Giphy channel.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Amazon doesn’t list any official TV spots on its YouTube channel, but there have been some promoted posts on social media that have used both the trailers and shorter videos that play like commercials. Other online ads used elements from the key art, as well as a promotional image of Johnson draped in red ribbons and surrounded by other dancers.

Media and Publicity

There had been coverage during early production but the first real press came when Johnson and director Luca Guadagnino debuted footage from the film as part of Amazon’s presentation during CinemaCon, footage that had a lot of attendees reportedly creeped out. It later skipped Cannes, presumably to open it up to make more of a fall film festival run.

A first look still was pushed out around the time Amazon gave it a release date and later on it was announced as one of the movies appearing at the Venice Film Festival.

One of the movie’s central dance sequences was the focus of an EW feature in its Fall Movie Preview issue. Shortly after that Guadagnino was interviewed about his hopes the movie really disturbs audiences as well as what he got from watching the original. Swinton then spoke about how this was the fourth film she’s made with Guadagnino and why the two work together frequently.

A clip released in late August gave audiences the first long-form look at the movie, specifically the demanding and creepy dance academy the characters populate. Another released in mid-October offered an extended look at Susie’s audition for the academy.

Screenwriter David Kajganich revealed he wasn’t a fan of the original film but that he saw an opportunity to expand the scope of the story in this version, or at least flesh out the background of 1970s Germany it’s set in. Johnson and the rest of the cast and crew spoke regularly while on the festival circuit about the story, the process of making the film and related topics.

It was announced in mid-September the movie would also screen at Beyond Fest.

A feature on Swinton had the actress finally confirming she played the mysterious male doctor and elaborating on the lengths she went to in order to inhabit the character. Guadagnino also spoke about the parts of the film he found most difficult or interesting to shoot and why he made certain stylistic choices.

Johnson has been making the TV talk show rounds as well, splitting her attention between this movie and Bad Times at the El Royale, which opened just a couple weeks ago.

Another interview with Guadagnino allowed him to talk more about casting Johnson and more with a conversation with the pair of them focused on the intense but fun set during production.


The campaign is so dense, inaccessible and filled with vague, mysterious imagery and symbolism that I can’t see this resonating with most anyone who didn’t hail mother! as their favorite movie of last year. It’s not a bad campaign, it’s just that there’s nothing about it that’s designed to appeal to a mainstream audience.

That hasn’t been helped by all the speculation about who Swinton is playing, the fact that it’s a remake of a movie that was never a popular favorite to begin with and other factors. It looks good, but there’s nothing here for anyone to actually latch on to.

Picking Up The Spare

More from director Luca Guadagnino on the parallels between the movie’s story and the current US political climate.

Amazon Studios put out a video of fans reacting to a particular scene from the film.

Amazon launched a mini-campaign to promote the movie’s coming soon to Prime Video that was drastically different in tone from the theatrical marketing.