How An All-Star Cast Makes Bleak House Brilliant

This gorgeous Dickens adaptation has star actors galore – here’s what they bring to the iconic roles they inhabit.

Bleak House Characters

Carey Mulligan as Ada Clare

Bleak House revolves around the epic and unending court case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, a legal quagmire that has sucked in a number of possible heirs.

One of them is Ada Clare: a young, fresh-faced, almost angelic orphan who finds herself swept up in events beyond her control. A youthful Carey Mulligan, on the brink of breakout success as an A-list star, brings all her natural radiance to the role, looking almost like she's stepped out of a Victorian painting. Mulligan's soft, gentle acting style is an ideal match for this understated character.

Charles Dance

Charles Dance as Tulkinghorn

When it comes to sheer screen presence, few actors can hold a candle to Charles Dance. With his hawkishly handsome looks, commanding voice and characteristic icy fire in his eyes, he's a natural when it comes to playing imposing villains. And they don't come much more imposing or remorseless than Tulkinghorn, the lawyer who takes it upon himself to investigate Lady Dedlock's past.

Charles Dance totally embodies this cruel character's relentless, ruthless single-mindedness as he zeroes in on the skeletons in her cupboard. It's a formidable performance even by Dance's standards.

Gillian Anderson plays Lady Dedlock

Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock

Gorgeous and glacial, aloof and aristocratic, heavily burdened by secrets - that's Lady Dedlock in a nutshell. You can see exactly why Gillian Anderson is a perfect fit for the part. After all, she's a star who's famed for the slow-moving elegance of her manner, as well as her air of controlled restraint. But it's more than that.

Gillian Anderson has a natural talent for conveying the inner, hidden torment behind her characters' outward poise. It's genuinely hard to imagine many other stars inhabiting the role of Bleak House's mysterious society beauty so naturally.

Phil Davis as Smallweed.

Phil Davis as Smallweed

Dickens always had a knack for naming his characters, and he really excelled himself with Smallweed. What a perfect name for a bitter, greedy, wizened old moneylender who would be pitiful if he wasn't so hateful. Whitechapel star Phil Davis is one of those rare actors who can do "loveable" and "horrible" with equal aplomb, and he's certainly the latter in this role, putting on a perfect scowl in every scene as he skulks and schemes and orders people about in that brilliantly repellent raspy voice. You'll feel sorry for anyone who has the misfortune of breathing the same air as this dreadful man.

Johnny Vegas as Krook

After Harold and Albert Steptoe, Krook is probably the most famous rag-and-bone man in the world. On the face of it, Johnny Vegas was an unlikely choice for the part, because Dickens describes Krook as "cadaverous and withered", "frosted with white hairs", and "gnarled with veins and puckered skin". Not quite how anyone would describe Johnny Vegas, but the comedian makes the role his own by giving us an alternative Krook: a plump petty bully, ruddy-faced and engorged with gin, and a completely Dickensian character despite looking very different from the Krook of the novel. It's a masterful and surprising performance from this usually hellraising comic.

Alun Armstrong plays Inspector Bucket

Alun Armstrong as Inspector Bucket

We know Alun Armstrong can do detectives - he became a beloved telly favourite as eccentric crime-solver Brian on New Tricks. In Bleak House he plays another sleuth, the predecessor of Brian and arguably every other fictional detective you've ever known, from Sherlock Holmes to Poirot. As dreamt up by Dickens, the coolly calculating Inspector Bucket set the template for detective characters in books, films and TV shows, and Armstrong's craggy, coarse charm makes the character really come alive as he investigates the first literary whodunit of all time.

Denis Lawson as John Jarndyce

Denis Lawson as John Jarndyce

Whether you know him best from New Tricks, Star Wars or some of the other big roles he's played over the years, you'll know Denis Lawson has a natural knack for conveying quiet decency. That's why he makes such a marvelous John Jarndyce, who is deeply embroiled in the infinitely complex court case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce. With her furrowed brow, thick eyebrows and anxious eyes, Denis Lawson gives us a beautifully controlled performance, capturing the essence of a generous, kind-hearted man in thrall to his own emotions and affections.

Bleak House on Sunday from 11am