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24 September 2014
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Bleak House
Esther, suffering from smallpox, in Bleak House

Bleak House - press pack phase three Starts Thursday 27 October on BBC ONE

In sickness and in health


The heroine of Bleak House contracts smallpox, as Andrew Davies' adaptation continues...


Charles Dickens was never one to shy away from writing truthfully about life in 19th-century Britain. Poverty, disease and death were never far away, so it was inevitable that some of the characters in Bleak House, adapted by Andrew Davies, would succumb to one, if not all of the above.


Esther Summerson, (played by Anna Maxwell Martin), the kind-hearted heroine of Bleak House, is one of the unlucky ones.


It all begins when John Jarndyce and Esther discover that Jo, the young crossing sweeper, is ill and insist on taking him back to the house to care for him. He mysteriously goes missing overnight (with a little help from Tulkinghorn, the lawyer, and Detective Bucket) but, by morning, Esther has contracted smallpox.


The prognosis isn't good: "She nearly dies," says Anna, who had to sit for hours in make-up to achieve Esther's shocking look.


"Even Guppy is appalled at the sight of Esther," continues Anna, about the hapless legal clerk who seems to have made it his quest to win over Esther.


Guppy even rescinds his marriage proposal: "That scene was very amusing to film; Burn [Gorman] was very, very funny.


"If you think about the time, it would have been mortifying to think about a lady dressed in fine clothes, walking around with a face like that. I looked like a pizza; it's really bad.


"Fortunately I had a very wonderful make-up man, Daniel Phillips, who was just a genius. Hopefully it will look very realistic and very truthful. It is very pizza-like though and Esther is hideously ugly and disfigured."


Further cast interviews will be released over the following weeks.



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