by Allan Fish
(UK 2007/2009 475m) DVD1/2
A very fine weave
p Sue Birtwistle d Simon Curtis, Steve Hudson created by Sue Birtwistle, Susie Conklin w Heidi Thomas novel Elizabeth Gaskell ph Ben Smithard ed Frances Parker m Carl Davis art Donal Woods cos Jenny Beavan
Judi Dench (Miss Matty Jenkyns), Eileen Atkins (Miss Deborah Jenkyns), Michael Gambon (Thomas Holbrook), Simon Woods (Dr Frank Harrison), Imelda Staunton (Miss Pole), Philip Glenister (Mr Carter), Jim Carter (Captain Brown), Francesca Annis (Lady Ludlow), Julia Sawalha (Jessie Brown), Greg Wise (Sir Charles Maulver), Emma Fielding (Miss Galindo), Barbara Flynn (Mrs Jamieson), Lesley Manville (Mrs Rose), Julia McKenzie (Mrs Forester), Dean Lennox Kelly (Job Gregson), Martin Shaw (Peter Jenkyns), Finty Williams (Clara Smith), Joseph McFadden (Dr Jack Mashland), Jonathan Pryce (Mr Buxton), Celia Imrie (Lady Glenmire), Jodie Whittaker (Peggy Bell), Tim Curry (Signor Brunoni), Alex Jennings (Rev Hutton), Michelle Dockery (Erminia White),
The very last words of of the primary series of this much loved classic adaptation – in more ways than one – could not have been more appropriate to describe the series itself, and indeed that of the Elizabeth Gaskell plots it encompasses. They, too, like Miss Matty’s decades-late Muslin fabric, is tightly weaved and intricately detailed, and the sort of entertainment for which Sunday evenings were made for. True, it doesn’t offer anything particularly original, and it will, of course, only appeal to a certain type of viewer, but could it honestly have been made any better.
Set in 1842 inCranford – modelled scholars say on Knutsford – in Cheshire, it follows the fortunes of a group of people living in a female dominated small town at the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. Dr Frank Harrison comes to take a junior doctor’s post at the small town after training in the city, and his radical progressive techniques are in stark contrast to his backward partner. He falls in love with a vicar’s daughter, but several other women – one or two old enough to know better – get themselves into a tizz thinking he’s interested in them, rather than being merely polite.
That is just one plot strand of many, the others we shall have to pass over and say that they are no less involving. Cranford as a microcosm of Victorian society is very different from the smog of Milton in North & South – also made by the BBC in 2004. Cranford rather is the epitome of time standing still and never changing, while Milton is of going forward. Though of social import in various aspects, Gaskell’s novel relies far more on character to tell its tale, which, when dramatised, places a great deal of reliance on its cast. Very much a distaff community, it’s the women who dominate, but it would be unfair not to mention the contributions of Glenister – a costume drama veteran returning in a sojourn from playing the antipodal Gene Hunt – who is excellent as the kindly estate manager, Gambon, perhaps underused but always welcome as Miss Matty’s old flame, Carter as the down-to-earth progressive Captain and, last but not least, young Woods – a million miles from Rome’s Augustus – as the young doctor who sends the whole town into flutters of excitement. As for those redoubtable women, let us begin by saying that Flynn, Annis and Manville are merely perfect, McKenzie a delight, and Staunton typically imperious as the self-regarding Miss Pole. One expects great things of Dench – nonetheless it’s another in an uninterrupted strain of superb performances – yet she is, if anything, outdone by Atkins as her formidable, but essentially kindly sister. To this, add glorious use of the natural countryside, superb interior lighting, costumes (from the great Jenny Beavan) and a perfect score from Carl Davis which encapsulates the mood in its credit sequence alone. It might seem to belong to another world, but just think about it; are the scandal-mongering, finger-wagging old spinsters in Cranford different from the internet blog posters of the 21st century? Even Empire magazine gave it its highest ***** rating, saying “the result is by turns funny, sad and subtly riveting, a reminder that not all corset dramas have to be corseted. Gorgeous stuff.”