Friday, November 26, 2010

Review: Cranford

Sorry everyone that the review for this week was late in coming. I was really busy with school this week (I know, right before Thanksgiving...). The next review will hopefully be posted on December 6th. Here is the review!

Cranford... It was something that I have seen on the Masterpiece Theater website or advertised on PBS, but didn't know what it was. I had never heard of it or the author, Elizabeth Gaskell. My mother bought the DVD collection (which included both Cranford and Return to Cranford). Once I watched it, I was glad that I did.
Box Art

Cranford combines three of Elizabeth Gaskell's books into one miniseries: Cranford, Mr. Harrison's Confessions, and My Lady Ludlow. Young Mary Smith returns to the small town of Cranford, her mother's home, and stays with two sisters: Deborah Jenkyns (Eileen Atkins) and Matilda "Matty" Jenkyns (Judi Dench). At the same time, a new doctor arrives in Cranford; Doctor Harrison, a man who has a good reputation, arrives to help the aging Doctor Morgan, and meanwhile gains the attentions of the ladies of Cranford. Meanwhile, Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis) is waiting to hear from her son who is sick and abroad. Harry Gregson, a poor boy, is caught trespassing on her property and suspected of poaching and Mr. Carter, Lady Ludlow's land agent, takes him under his wing and educates him, much to the chagrin of Lady Ludlow. There are many subplots that take place within an episode: one involves lace, another about a man who has to go through surgery on his broken arm to name a few.

Some of the characters are very comical, others are much more serious. This is also reflected in the storylines of Cranford; there are two tones to the whole story: on the one hand, there are some very comical and lighthearted scenes, while others are much more serious and heavy.

There is a well known cast including Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins, but some of the cast you might easily recognize from other period dramas: Julia Sawalha (Pride and Prejudice, Lark Rise to Candleford) is Jessie Brown, Barbara Flynn (He Knew He Was Right) is Mrs. Jamieson, Claudie Blakley (Lark Rise to Candleford) is Martha, Greg Wise (Sense and Sensibility) is Sir Charles Maulver. There are other recognizable actors and actresses, but these are just a few. 
Left to Right: Mary Smith, Deborah Jenkyns, Matilda Jenkyns,
and Miss Pole
Characters like Miss Pole (Imelda Staunton) add comic relief to the story. As the town gossip, she hears many stories which contribute to some of the lighthearted subplots. Her presence on the screen gave Cranford a very light hearted tone to it. During those scenes, Cranford seemed to resemble a Jane Austen novel in that the happenings that were going on were very similar to something in real life (which is something that I have noticed with Jane Austen's novels). I really liked that.
The more serious characters include Lady Ludlow, Harry Gregson and his family, and Mr. Carter. You do come to love Mr. Carter, who at first seems very strict, but then turns out to be a caring father figure to Harry. This story line deals with a serious issue at the time: whether the poor should be educated or not. Harry's father, Job, thinks that education isn't for everyone, and Lady Ludlow does not want to see him educated. Mr. Carter feels that Harry should be educated in order to improve his life.

One of the subplots: Caroline Tomkinson feeling faint
while Doctor Harrison tries to relieve her.
Some very nice scenery in Cranford. Some scenes, however, that are more serious have a much more subdued tone to them. Other scenes have more color to them. Cranford is a small town in the 1840s, and it looks like something that came out of a Jane Austen novel; it looked very nice and country-like. Lady Ludlow's home was spacious and fancy and the grounds were very large. On her grounds, there was a railroad being built, so also shown was the construction area (an interesting touch, to be sure), but there are other shots of the grounds that you see, not just the railway. The other homes in Cranford were not as big or fancy, but they were cozy and nicely laid out.

BBC succeeds in giving its actors and actresses very nice costumes. There aren't many extravagant costumes as Cranford is a country town; the exception being Lady Ludlow's dresses, who, though her dresses were cut in an old fashion, still used fine fabrics.

Miss Pole holding her bonnet in place as she and Mrs. Forrester
(Julia McKenzie) run to tell a bit of news.
Miss Pole's bonnet represents her completely! Her usual bonnet, a straw bonnet with a single protruding feather sticking straight up in its quirky way, exemplifies her character. I absolutely love how it describes her. When you see that single feather move across the screen, it's almost like Jaws (in a good way); she moves to one of her friends in her humorous way until BAM! she tells a piece of gossip! I love it!

The contrasts between Deborah and Miss Matty is also shown between their clothes. Deborah is dressed in very dark colors to match her personality which is strict about decorum. Miss Matty, being much less strict than Deborah, has lighter colors for her dresses. I thought this was done very well.

I love the theme song! It has a very easy melody that, while low during the beginning, has a lighthearted tone to it. It's very flowing and nice. It describes the lighthearted overtones that are present in the plot, though there are more serious moments.

There is a little bit of singing in Cranford. If you ever wanted to hear Julia Sawalha sing, here is your chance. She sings twice during the whole show. Her voice is probably not the best singing voice, but it wasn't absolutely terrible. Also sung was "The Parting Class" by the character Jack Marshland (Joe McFadden).

There is a soundtrack for Cranford that is available at Amazon. It has 30 tracks on the CD.

Overall: 4/5
I would recommend Cranford to anyone. There are a couple of intense scenes (a couple of surgeries and accidents that required surgery), and sometimes the plot can be really serious at times, but there was a lightheartedness to Cranford. There are some very nice costumes, and the acting is well done (which I should expect from BBC). It is also very nice to look at.

Cranford is available on DVD; it is made up five one hour episodes. You can purchase it on it's own or in a collection that includes Return to Cranford.

Edit (11/26/10): I had a couple of inaccuracies in my review. What I have fixed is now underlined. I would like to thank Miss Laurie for pointing them out to me. Thank you so much Miss Laurie!


  1. I simply adore Cranford! There are so many stories and so many delightful characters!
    The music for Cranford is so delightful! And there is a soundtrack which you can purchase from (See Here: I own the soundtrack and just love listening to it! The songs that Julia Sawalha sings are not on the soundtrack but the song sung by the Jack Marshland character (played by actor Joe McFadden) is. The song he sings is an old Irish melody 'The Parting Glass'.

    I love all of the film adaptations of Elizabeth Gaskell's works: 'Wives and Daughters' and 'North & South' are also lovely miniseries. Her novels are fantastic, North & South is one of my favorite novels ever (right up there with the Austen novels)!
    Have you watched 'Return to Cranford' yet? That has some lovely stories too and the acting is again fantastic!
    You simply must get to know Elizabeth Gaskell a bit better, her books and stories are some of the best, she's sort of a combination of Jane Austen's real-life characters mixed with Charlotte Bronte's grit and darkness. One thing about Gaskell is that she's not afraid to kill off characters that the reader might consider important to the story (like Deborah Jenkins) but no matter how messy situations seem she always finds a solution. I highly recommend Elizabeth Gaskell! :)

  2. Miss Laurie,
    Thank you so much for clearing up those things that I was not sure of. I have seen Return to Cranford; I liked it but I think that I liked Cranford better. I've also seen Wives and Daughters and liked it, though I think I'll have to go back and watch it again to get more of the details of the story.

    Thank you for your comment. :-)

  3. I LOVE Cranford!!! Definitely a favorite.

  4. I like it too. I love that there are those little subplots, like where Mrs. Forrester's cat eats the lace. It was really funny when Mrs. Forrester and Miss Pole were running to purchase "a tonic" and Mrs. Jamieson following behind them to see what was going on! I love that scene!

  5. I just loved Cranford too. The characters were truly wonderful, but I hated when some were killed off so un-expectedly. It was so cruel. The Christmas special had me in tears, I must say. But what can we expect from Elizabeth Gaskell. I really think that she is redefining what a family is - considering how someone can become a son, a daughter or a mother to you, even if there is no blood connection between you: we make our own families in the end.


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