AS ANDREW DAVIES' adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic novel Bleak House nears its dramatic denouement, Carey Mulligan is hugely enjoying the role of Ada Clare.
Ada is an orphan and a ward of court whose fortunes are tied up in the protracted case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. She meets and falls in love with fellow orphan Richard Carstone (Patrick Kennedy) and ends up at Bleak House, taken in by their generous and caring guardian, John Jarndyce (Denis Lawson).
"I don't think that Ada has encountered many men before," explains 20-year-old Carey. "I never had it in my head that she did, anyway. But when someone is thrust into your life and you see them every day, and you have to live with them, it's probably inevitable they will get on well with each other."
"I went to boarding school and you become really good friends with people within about a week, because you have to as you're living with them," says Carey. "Richard and Ada meet before they meet Esther (the heroine of the story who is employed as a companion to Ada), played by Anna Maxwell Martin.
"They give each other all these sideways glances in the first episode. I think it was just instant."
Ada falls in love with Richard but slowly becomes frustrated by his obsession with the Jarndyce lawsuit. "It's really hard, because she has this complete loyalty to Richard and he's the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with," says Carey.
"When they ask Jarndyce if they can get married, he says no. Part of Ada is really still loyal to Jarndyce, because obviously he's looking after her and she's living with him, but part of her is so in love with Richard and she really does want to get married. It's horrible, though," she says.
"Does she agree with Jarndyce and wait to get married, or does she fight with Richard? She has to make all these decisions as to who she is most loyal to."
Bleak House is Carey's first major TV role and she admits to finding it all a little daunting.
"I was really terrified. But when I got into it, it was OK," she smiles.
"There are so many storylines, though, that I didn't even get to meet a quarter of the cast. I auditioned twice for the role but had to go back again, as the tape hadn't worked in my second audition and they didn't get any of it on camera,"
Carey, who appeared in Forty Winks at the Royal Court Theatre last year and plays Kitty Bennett in the 2005 film version of Pride And Prejudice, can also be seen in the forthcoming drama Trial And Retribution X, due to air in 2006.
She was unfamiliar with much of Dickens' work before she became involved with Bleak House, but she thoroughly enjoyed the filming.
"The beginning is really beautiful. My mum read the novel and just couldn't stop," laughs Carey.
"The thing I noticed about it is that it seems to be really fast- moving. With a lot of costume dramas, you sit there and see a sweeping shot of a beautiful house, but it's like: 'What's happening with the story?' But this adaptation is all really quick. It's really cool."
Bleak House, BBC One, Thursday, 8pm, and Friday, 8.30pm