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24 September 2014
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Tom Courtenay as William Dorrit
Tom Courtenay as William Dorrit

Little Dorrit, a major BBC One Dickens adaptation

Tom Courtenay plays William Dorrit


This production of Little Dorrit has effected quite a coup in securing the services of Sir Tom Courtenay – the acting great rarely does TV these days, so it was a real achievement to recruit him.


Tom portrays William Dorrit, the self-deluded man who seems quite content to carry on living in Marshalsea debtors' prison and lord it over the inmates there.


All that is changed, however, when the arrival of the mysterious Arthur (Matthew Macfadyen) transforms the Dorrit family fortunes.


Tom was delighted to accept the role. For a start, it meant that he was reunited with an old friend.


The actor, who has starred over the years in such classics as Billy Liar, The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner, Doctor Zhivago, The Dresser and A Rather English Marriage, takes up the story.


"Andrew Davies [the adaptor of Little Dorrit] and I are very old friends. We were at university together.


"We worked together very happily on A Rather English Marriage a few years ago, and it's lovely to be collaborating with him again.


"His scripts are brilliant - he really captures the vividity of the characters. This has been a very happy reunion."


The other element that drew Tom to this project was his deep and longstanding love of Charles Dickens.


"I know my Dickens pretty well," reflects the actor, who was awarded a knighthood in the Queen's New Year's honours list of 2001.


"Alongside Shakespeare, he has been my favourite writer since I was at school. I used to love reading his books aloud.


"People adore Dickens because of his stunning imagination. Actors love him because of the huge number of marvellously rich characters he creates.


"Unlike Shakespeare, even the smallest characters are very vividly drawn. Quite simply, he was a genius."


Tom, who was seen last year in the big-budget movie The Golden Compass, goes on to outline the character of William Dorrit.


"He has been living in prison so long that he has just got used to it. He has completely adapted to life inside. When he finally gets out, life is not as he's imagined it would be and he realises that he is actually happier in prison.


"He's a less well known part than, say, Mr Micawber, but in fact he's a much richer character. He goes through so many ups and downs and in so many different directions, sometimes simultaneously. That has made him the most terrific fun to play."


Many of Tom's scenes have been with the young actress Claire Foy, who plays William's daughter, Amy.


"The main aspect for me has been William's relationship with his daughter. She is wonderful to him and helps him get through it. It's been a joy working with Claire. She's such a talent."


Tom closes by underlining that appearing in Little Dorrit is the fulfilment of a long-held dream.


"I've always wanted to be in a TV adaptation of one of Dickens' novels, and regret that I haven't previously been able to. So now this is my opportunity, and I'm loving it!"



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