Little Dorrit, a major BBC One Dickens adaptation
James Fleet plays Frederick Dorrit
James Fleet was gripped by this adaptation of Little Dorrit the moment he opened the script.
"It's such a rattling good story," enthuses the actor.
"They sent me all 14 scripts, and I read them extremely quickly. They're such page-turners. I kept thinking, 'what an amazing story'. It's so full of great characters. I kept saying to myself, 'that's a fantastic part. I wonder who's playing that?'"
The actor, who is perhaps best known as the naive Hugo in The Vicar Of Dibley, takes the part of the good-natured but weak-willed Frederick Dorrit, the brother of William and the uncle of Amy and Fanny.
James laughs that his character is quite spineless.
"There are times when you want to give Frederick a good slap and say, 'stop being so weak and moany. Stand up for yourself!'
"He is one of a panoply of weak men in Dickens that people find charming - think of Newman Noggs in Nicholas Nickleby. Their hearts have often been broken in the past, and that has turned them into these men who can't fight their own corner."
There is a very clear distinction between Frederick and William.
"They are certainly not equals," reckons James, who has also appeared in Four Weddings And A Funeral, A Cock And Bull Story, and Sense And Sensibility.
"Frederick is the shy brother who never puts himself forward. William is not a very nice person. He is constantly bossing Frederick around."
The actor believes that the half-hour format is ideal for Little Dorrit.
"It's the perfect length, and it mirrors the page-turner aspect of the book. Every episode ends on a cliff-hanger. You also need lots of episodes because there are so many characters. There are 15 different plots going in 15 different directions."
James adds that the series looks a treat, too.
"The technical expertise on this drama is phenomenal. There is so much wonderfully detailed work going on in the design, costume, hair, and make-up departments. Even the supporting artists are spot-on.
"There are impoverished men with birth marks and these haunting pale faces and fallen women with ravaged demeanours. I feel very privileged to be working in this company."
The compelling look reflects the abiding theme of the book.
"Watching this, it's not hard to imagine yourself in a world where it's disastrous to be poor," James avers.
"The overriding idea is: whatever you do, don't be poor. After all these years, Dickens never fails to move us with his compassion."
The actor closes by underscoring the captivating quality of this production.
"I think this serial is going to be great," he beams.
"The acting's fantastic. Every time I watch a scene, I just go, 'wow!'"