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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!