Bleak House - press pack phase two
Starts Thursday 27 October on BBC ONE
Anna Maxwell Martin plays Esther Summerson
Esther Summerson is one in a million. Pure, kind-hearted and genuine are just a few words that could be used to describe her but, behind her smile, she is nursing a broken heart, having been brought up believing she is an orphan.
Anna Maxwell Martin plays the enchanting Esther and, after six months of filming, with Esther at the centre of many of the stories running through Bleak House, she knows her character inside out.
"Esther is portrayed quite differently in this adaptation than in the book," says the young actress, who takes her first major TV role in the BBC ONE drama.
"In the book, as is often with these Dickens characters and characters of that time, Esther is very righteous, pure and good. I think what Andrew [Davies] has done brilliantly is that he's given her a bit of an edge.
"She's strong anyway, she's on her own, but I think he's made her more worldly and less subservient. She's also much more aware of people's faults than she is in the book."
Anna, who played Lyra at the Royal National Theatre in the stage version of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, read the book of Bleak House after getting the part of Esther but admits that, in her opinion, the scripts cannot be beaten.
"The scripts were just incredible and I remember getting them and being up in the middle of the night, reading one after the other, because they were so exciting.
"The whole format, the way it's been done, makes you really want to know exactly what is happening. I have to admit I found the book very hard to get through, though."
It was essential for Anna to completely get to grips with the myriad storylines as Esther features so prominently throughout the piece.
"That was brilliant though, that's the real joy for actors, having a part like that and working solidly for six months – you feel completely involved in it.
"It's quite hard when you do a part where it's intermittent and you do a day here and there – it's hard to keep a hold on the character, rather than when you're filming every day.
"I had to be so organised and I'm not a very organised person," she laughs.
"There was so much going on and obviously it's a huge journey for Esther. If you don't know where you are emotionally in it, it becomes a nightmare."
Esther's journey sees her arrive at Bleak House following the death of her aunt, and she soon befriends Richard and Ada, the wards of court in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, the complex case that has seen the ruin of many a man over the years.
While there, Esther's guardian, Mr John Jarndyce (played by Denis Lawson) falls under her spell and plucks up the courage to propose to her.
"He's a lovely man. Esther accepts his proposal because she owes that man everything. He has paid for her schooling and you don't know why because you don't know who her parents are. It all becomes clear in the end but he has watched her progress from a young age.
"She owes him her whole life. Without him, she would be nobody and I think she feels so indebted to him. He never judges her, he's nurtured her and brought her to this house and given her this wonderful life."
But Jarndyce isn't Esther's only suitor – there's also the hapless legal clerk, Guppy, and dashing Doctor Allan Woodcourt waiting in the wings.
Guppy will not take no for an answer and is desperate to help Esther find out more about her background – oblivious to the fact that he is doing more harm than good.
"I think, in the end, his actions prove that he's a really good person – he goes to great lengths to help her situation. He is a bit of a stalker though! He gets sharp shrift from Esther!"
Allan Woodcourt, on the other hand, is in a different league to Guppy.
"The thing that they have most in common is they're very charitable, always wanting to help people. His whole career is about having to mend people and he does it brilliantly, out of the goodness of his heart. Esther also has that quality."
So why does everybody fall in love with Esther? "I don't know," laughs Anna. "I think that in that time purity was seen as a great virtue, and I don't mean purity in the virginal sense."
Aside from the various love interests in Esther's life, Bleak House also focuses on the friendships Esther builds up with Richard and Ada and on her finding out her true identity, but, admits Anna, there's far more to the story than that.
"It's very much out of the same vein as traditional costume drama. There's a huge murder story – it's not just a love story, there's loads of different threads of the story going on at the same time, and there's a huge cast, so there's always something going on.
"The murder story comes into it halfway through and just kind of pushes it along. It's like a murder mystery and you're completely shocked by the outcome."
Working on such a huge project has obviously left its mark on Anna, and she wonders whether she will ever be able to top it.
"We all kind of felt like that at the end. I can't speak for anyone else but I really felt like it was something very special and I was very fortunate.
"On the last day of filming I said, 'I don't cry, I don't like saying goodbye but I don't cry at these things,' and then when they said, 'That's the last scene of Bleak House,' I cried my eyes out! It was so embarrassing! I was a complete mess!"