Review: Cranford (TV series, 2008)

Posted May 14, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

This has possibly the most stellar cast ever assembled for a BBC costume drama. With Mrs Gaskell writing (most of) the words and the likes of Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Francesca Annis, Barbara Flynn, Lesley Manville, Julia Sawalha, Philip Glenister… (the list goes on and on and on) speaking them, what could possibly go wrong? Happily, nothing at all. The only difficulty is stopping oneself being totally gobsmacked by the awesomeness of it all. And naturally, the sets and costumes are all wonderful, too.

The plot… well, it doesn’t really matter, does it? I’ve never read the book, but that doesn’t matter either, and even with a cast of thousands, all with their own little sub-plots, it was never hard to work out what was going on. Cranford is a small town on the cusp of being dragged into the forward-thinking Victorian era by the arrival of the railway, in the teeth of the residents’ opposition. The ladies of the town (and there seem to be surprisingly few gentlemen) are keeping up with their mannered round of small and inconsequential happenings as if they were still back in the Georgian era, but gradually life and death bring them a little nearer the future. It may have been just my imagination, but the costumes seemed to change from the somewhat high-waisted and narrower-skirted late Georgian styles straight into the natural waists and full skirts of the early Victorian, even though only a single year is supposed to have elapsed. If this is so, it was a clever and subtle allusion to the progress of industrialisation.

The only problem with it, for me , anyway, was the high level of tragedy that seemingly hit this one small town. Every episode seemed to have at least one death, and sometimes more, and the poor Rector’s family were under constant assault from life-threatening illnesses. That gave it a very Dickensian air of doom and gloom, but there were also light-hearted moments, too, and the poor new doctor, a very naive young man, gets caught up in both, mostly inadvertently.

Of the actresses, Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench and Francesca Annis are incomparable, bringing out out all the pathos and underlying tragedies of their constrained lives. Honourable mentions, too, for two of my favourite actresses, who rarely get top billing but are always wonderful, Lesley Manville and Barbara Flynn. But really, there wasn’t a sub-par performance in the whole cast. Terrific stuff.


2 responses to “Review: Cranford (TV series, 2008)

  1. Cheryl Hilderbrand

    I had read the books years ago. Everything by Gaskell. And had watched also a PBS version of Cranford years ago. This mini series was a delightful, fabulous discovery. I agree with everything you said about it. Except that you didn’t mention how funny it was. The careful conversations! The manners and mores, and they way the ladies got around them, etc. Yes, there was a great deal of tragedy. And about halfway through my marathon (over several evenings) I noticed that Heidi Thomas was one of the writers. YES…she now writes Call the Midwife—and there is usually at least one tragedy or near tragedy in the many plots and subplots of each episode. Once I knew it was Thomas, I could see patterns. North and South is also great.
    I have read somewhere that there is a movie version of Precious Bane by Mary Webb, (One of my all time favorites.) But I haven’t found it.
    Can’t wait for Orphan. Think the Lacemaker has been my favorite in the new series, but loved the all. The Painter was very well done, too.
    Cheryl Hilderbrand

    • Mary Kingswood

      Thank you for the kind words. I’m just preparing The Orphan for release – almost done!