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Cranford: The Collection (Cranford / Return to Cranford)
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Cranford: The Collection (DVD)
Adapted from Elizabeth Gaskell's novels, the five-episode miniseries Cranford focuses on female characters in the 19th-century British town to thematically contemplate encroaching modernity in rural England. With the camera roving house to house, each drama within the grander story is constructed of scenes featuring dialogue between several gossipy ladies obsessed with moral code, romantic ideas about courtship, and social occasions. Three main characters, the ever-appropriate Deborah Jenkyns (Eileen Atkins), her sweet sister, Matilda (Judi Dench), and their younger, more savvy relative, Miss Smith (Lisa Dillon), continuously weigh in on situations, providing a dependable view when other ladies, like the nosey Miss Pole (Imelda Staunton) are too judgmental. In fine period dress, the women of Cranford remind the viewer of how little action was needed in their small-town lives to provide unceasing entertainment. The series'most intriguing aspect lies not in the ample female conversation but rather in its display of earlier technologies and ways of life. Part One, for example, quickly launches a main narrative thread that runs throughout the series, namely the arrival and assimilation of London doctor, Frank Harrison (Simon Woods), into village society. Dr. Harrison's medical practices, such as his refusal to amputate a man's arm because it's broken, are all the more radical because they are so fundamental by today's standards. In subsequent episodes, he recommends Miss Smith get spectacles to cure her headaches, and saves his love's life by cooling her fever after conservative doctor, Dr. Morgan (John Bowe), recommends the old school practice of burying her in blankets in front of a raging fire. In Part Two, Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis) throws a garden party at her estate, treating all the women in their fancy hats to a new novelty: ice cream. This scene foreshadows Ludlow's future concern at a railroad plan involving her land that would connect Cranford to Manchester, symbolizing the ruin of this idyllic setting. In fact, fluffy and clever as some scenes are, death and rebirth assert themselves in each showing, both physically and idealistically. Part Four shows an auctioning off of a deceased man's antiques, and focuses on issues of class and women's education, as Mr. Carter teaches a peasant boy to read while his assistant fumes at her trappings as a seamstress. Part Five ushers in a new period of medical emergencies, securing Dr. Harrison's shaky position in town. In total, Cranford offers a powerful, if sentimental, look at how death begets life, love, and passion. --Trinie Dalton
The two-part saga Return to Cranford opens to a struggling Cranford, a traditional English village that in autumn 1844 is airing the conflicts that accompany progress. Miss Matty Jenkyns (Judi Dench), after having closed her business in the last series, is happily babysitting the child of her maid, Martha (Claudie Blakley). This gives the ladies in town something to gossip about, as does every other small event in this chatty group. The same women populate this new Cranford--the snooty Miss Jamieson (Barbara Flynn), nosy Miss Pole (Imelda Staunton), Miss Forrester (Julia McKenzie), Peggy (Jodie Whittaker), and Erminia (Michelle Dockery)--while a few new men added into the mix creates options for love interests throughout. In Part One, Peggy, visiting her dead father's grave, bumps into William Baxton (Tom Hiddleston), a young and dapper gentleman who becomes a central character in Cranford's growing divide between those who want a railroad coming through town and those who don't. While politics are sorted, scenes alternate between heated public debates and intimate domestic exchanges to make Return to Cranford as charming as the first incarnations of this historical drama. The emphasis on the ways the women in town navigate thorny social situations remains primary in Return to Cranford. Babies are born and the elderly pass away while the ladies busily decide what to make of it all. While Part One focuses on catch-up, showing where each crone stands on the latest current events, Part Two attempts more to challenge outmoded cultural values such as elitism and to show how the community members toughen up to become a courageous bunch. Unfortunately, Miss Matty discovers that solidarity is hard to come by in this small village, and Part Two is as much about a town falling apart as it is about ways to heal sore feelings and a violated landscape. Ultimately, life marches on in this pleasurably fictionalized glimpse into England's past. --Trinie Dalton
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Top Customer Reviews
Cranford aka the Cranford Chronicles, based on Elizabeth Gaskell's story is a stellar production. It is a lush period drama and is very authentic in its portrayal of people living in a little hamlet called Cranford. The sets are beautiful as are the costumes, and of course the production is elevated to a level of excellence by its impeccable casting. Writer Heidi Thomas does a wonderful job of adapting Elizabeth Gaskell's story [purportedly based on Gaskell's own hometown] and though liberties are taken, the stellar cast more than makes up for whatever deficiencies there may be in the faithfulness of the adaptation. Dame Eileen Atkins [Miss Deborah Jenkins] and Dame Judi Dench [Miss Matty Jenkins] portray two spinster sisters in 1842 who live in the little town of Cranford. Far from being a quiet little hamlet, this little town hums with activity and village gossips, especially a Miss Pole [Imelda Staunton]who flits around from one hearsay to another, avidly passing on any little nuggets of gossip to the other inhabitants.
Cranford is set aflutter by the arrival of a new doctor, Dr Harrison [Simon Woods] who is young, handsome, single and very much into trying new methods of treatment, to the initial consternation of the townspeople. Dr Harrison finds himself attracted to a beautiful local lass, Sophy [Kimberly Nixon] though he inadvertently attracts the romantic affections of other single women in Cranford. But the story does not merely focus on romance, as there are other more serious themes underlying the series. For one, there is talk of a railroad being built that would go through Cranford, and disrupt the idyllic life in the village, giving rise to the inevitable battle between modernization and the desire for things to remain unchanged. The local rich lady, Lady Ludlow portrayed by Francesca Annis is very much opposed to change, and not only opposes the railroad but also any form of societal change, such as literacy amongst the lower classes [she refuses to hire a maid who is literate, saying the girl's parents did her a disservice by teaching her to read].
There is also the theme of lost love, death and grief. Miss Matty Jenkins[ Judi Dench] finds herself recounting the tale of her lost love [played by Michael Gambon]. This is what makes Cranford such an engaging viewing experience - the absurd [the story of the cat swallowing an antique lace and how the lace is retrieved] is interlaced with tales of poignancy and everything unfolds leisurely. It is a tale that we wish will never end, and hope to revisit again and again.
Return to Cranford (2009)
This is not really a sequel (though some story arcs from the original do get developed here), but a 2-part special that is inspired in part by Cranford, and also two other stories by author Elizabeth Gaskell, i.e. "The Moorland Cottage", and also "The Cage at Cranford", see Three Tales of Cranford: Cranford, The Cage at Cranford, and The Moorland Cottage. Besides the familiar and beloved cast of the original Cranford such as Miss Matty (Dame Judi Dench), Miss Pole (Imelda Staunton), Mrs Forrester (Julia McKenzie), Miss Tomkinson (Deborah Findlay), etc. several new characters are introduced, such as Lady Glenmire (played by Celia Imrie), and the conjuror Signor Brunoni(Tim Curry).
The first part is set in summer 1844 - it has been two years since dear Miss Matty (Dame Judi Dench in another luminous portrayal) lost her beloved sister Deborah, and a year since Sophy Hutton married Dr Harrison (these two characters are no longer in this show). Miss Matty seems content with the presence of her brother Peter (Nicholas Le Prevost) who is home from India, and helps look after Tilly, the baby of her maid Martha and carpenter Jem Hearne. The continuity from the original Cranford is seen in the railway project which still looms menacingly over the town. Things are also made more exciting with the arrival of Mr. Buxton, a wealthy widower who lives with his ward Erminia (Michelle Dockery) and his son William (Tom Hiddleston who is quite the eye candy). Life in Cranford is always full of surprises and when Lady Ludlow's long absent son Septimus (Rory Kinnear) arrives, things take unexpected turns, precipitated by a tragedy in the family. The old tensions are there - especially between those that are against the railroad project and those ,like Captain Brown and young William who feel that modernization is essential to Cranford's long-term survival. Miss Matty, in her usual subtle fashion, gets involved in some of these village proceedings, with some rather startling results.
The second part is set later in the year 1844, October up till Christmas - Miss Matty and her friends are predictably excited at the visit of Lady Glenmire (Celia Imrie) but when Mrs Jamieson (Barbara Flynn) feels no one amongst her peers is of suitably high rank to meet her, she and Lady Glenmire get snubbed by Matty and company and it is left to Lady Glenmire to set things right in a most memorable way. Matty also faces some challenges that involves a falling out amongst her circle of friends,a serious romance between William and a young woman deemed unsuitable by his father (which has Matty pondering the wisdom of her 'involvement' in bringing the pair together), and more tragedy on the horizon, affecting the citizens of Cranford.
A fair note of warning - this particular installment in the Cranford franchise is much more subdued than the original and there's quite a fair bit of tragedy - there's death (involving a couple of familiar characters who were also in the original), grief, tension, family drama, imperiled friendships, the age-old battle between those opposed to change and those who embrace the challenges of modernization, etc., but there's also romance and lighthearted moments. However, I can understand how this particular follow-up might disappoint purists who loved the original and how well it adhered to Gaskell's novel. Personally, I loved the original Cranford and thought it was a superior production, and though I like RTC, the plot is not as engaging as the original. As for the production qualities - they are excellent. The cinematography is gorgeous, capturing the beauty of the village surroundings as well as the period details, and the score complements the story perfectly. For the price offered here, this boxed set is value for money (I am getting this for my aunt as I've already purchased the two productions separately).
Keeping in mind that I have not read the books this production is based on, I would like to share my review of 2007's Cranford from The Cranford Collection. The BBC, known for high quality, entertaining period drama, did not disappoint. This production has it all. It is absolutely high quality entertainment!
What an amazing cast! Several of this distinguished cast I was familiar with. Others I knew less well or not at all.
Several times throughout the unfolding twists and turns of gossip and the dilemmas resulting from it I kept saying to myself, `why doesn't he just tell Mrs. Rose why he bought the gloves?' Or `why won't they take his/her word instead of assuming the worst?' So I had to keep reminding myself that this takes place in another era and in a community staunchly marked by the lack of change. Evidently being raised elsewhere, and most recently from London, the young doctor had no idea his well-intentioned gestures were being so misconstrued.
Here are some of my observations on a few of the characters:
Miss Pole - the town gossip extraordinaire. What she doesn't know she finds out, and what she doesn't find it out she manufactures. She and sweet Mrs. Forrester were as much to blame for the scandal associated with young Dr. Harrison as was his mischievous friend, Dr. Jack Marshland. Yet neither seemed to either recognize or admit to their part involving Mrs. Rose, nor did anyone else in their little close knit circle - knowing them as they did - consider that things were not altogether as they seemed. Indeed, Mrs. Rose moved in with Miss Pole afterwards, and Miss Pole referred to Dr. Harrison as 'that vile man.' As is so often the case with nosy gossipers, how unfortunate that Miss Pole and Mrs. Forrester did not realize or acknowledge their part in putting such ideas in Mrs. Rose's head to begin with.
Miss Deborah Jenkins - altogether stoical and reserved. While she exhibits Christian graces and promotes them, her friendship seems dependent on whether or not others adhere to her opinions and her ideas of 'proper behavior.' I found her domineering to some degree, coming across as 'it's my way or the highway.' (As when she stated to Captain Brown, upon learning of his opinions on and impending job for the railroad, that their acquaintance was clearly at an end.) There is no doubt she was a good woman at heart, well liked and respected by all who knew her, but altogether too stuffy for my taste.
Lady Ludlow - while Francesca Annis, in her statements in The Making of Cranford, said that she (Lady Ludlow) was a very kind woman, I found her kindness altogether too intermingled with a will to be in control of others' lives and the snobbery so apparent in her class. Snobbery less toward those of a lower station than she, and more toward station and ideas regarding education of the lower class. She clearly believed they should be kept 'under the thumb' of those more fortunate. I also found a part of me feeling great pity for her. As a mother with only one surviving child out of seven, she truly sensed, I believe, that her son cared much less for Hanbury than she was willing to let on. There was a real element of sadness to her demeanor. She was struggling desperately to hold on to a way of life that she knew was destined to disappear.
Harry Gregson - a young boy who cared more for and took more responsibility for his mother and siblings than his worthless, lazy, wandering father. A father who, in his narrow minded ignorance, denounced his son's desire to learn. Harry's inner character and staunch perseverance in the midst of his circumstances proved unswerving, however, and succeeded in winning the admiration of Mr. Carter, Miss Galindo, and, eventually, Lady Ludlow herself. His life circumstances gave him a maturity beyond his years.
Mr. Carter - although he comes across at first as being somewhat harsh, his softer side soon emerges. His devotion to and love for Hanbury often puts him at odds with Lady Ludlow's views and methods. It is in becoming a mentor to Harry that we truly see his compassion show through. I believe he indeed could - as he stated to Lady Ludlow - imagine what it was like to have a son. Upon learning that the poacher on the estate was Harry's father and that Harry was involved, we see his anger. Yet, despite his disapproval, he intervenes on the man's behalf because of his regard for Harry. Harry's love and respect for him grows as he mentors the young man, teaches him to read, and fosters in him a desire for further knowledge. The legacy he passes to Harry impacts not only Harry and his family but future generations as well.
The Tomkinson sisters - it seemed so very evident to me that neither of these ladies could (or would) recognize that Dr. Harrison displayed none of the characteristics of a suitor toward Caroline. His politeness was that of a gentleman only, his show of concern that of a physician only, and his admiration of Sophy was clearly evident to Caroline, if not to Augusta. As I saw Caroline sit idly clutching the infamous valentine, which caused so much unhappiness, I just kept saying, 'lady, you need to get a life!' But then I had to remind myself of the era, and the desperate emotions that so many women in that era surely felt at the lack of, and even remote possibility of, gaining a husband. How unfortunate that an unsigned valentine was attributed to one who never even knew it was sent.
The doctors - Dr. Harrison is absolutely adorable! Handsome, dedicated, a true young gentleman. I found Dr. Morgan's demeanor toward him to be less than satisfactory. When Dr. Harrison arrived later than expected, there was no 'so glad you're here. I was getting worried.' Instead, only a stern countenance as he pronounced him late. He went to Jem Hearn's house when Dr. Harrison was there to remove the bandages, saying he wondered if he could be of assistance. Really?! How many doctors are required to remove bandages? He obviously wanted to see the outcome. While he asked to shake Dr. Harrison's hand, I would like to have heard a 'you were right and I was wrong.' He even reprimanded Dr. Harrison on 'beginning extremely badly,' reminding him that 'this is Cranford - everything unchanging, perpetual...' He did not seem to welcome new medical procedures that might 'rock the boat' that is Cranford in spite of saving limbs and lives. I also found him lacking in the unfortunate scandal that arose surrounding the young doctor. He apparently refused to even consider Dr. Harrison's pleas of innocence, instead assuming his behavior to be that of less than a gentleman. Why did he not undertake to investigate the situation? I must say Dr. Harrison remained a gentleman through it all; wounded and heartbroken as he was.
Miss Matty - kindness personified. While she admired, depended on, and looked up to her sister, thankfully, she did not exhibit Deborah's stoicism and firmness in her opinions. There is a melancholy sadness about her. Her regret over never having a child, her enduring love for Mr. Holbrook, her continued heartache at having to turn down his proposal so many years earlier, her renewed hopes for the future, snatched away so abruptly. Through it all she remained a true lady who displayed no bitterness. Even in the midst of her devastating financial setback she remained more concerned over the ten shillings owed the butcher than over her own uncertain future. The scene where she recounts to Mary Smith the incident with Peter and why he left home is superb!
Sophy Hutton - a young woman catapulted into the responsibilities of adulthood by the death of her mother. Yet, instead of resenting her lot, we find her devoted to her younger siblings and caring for them with as close to a mother's love as one could have from a sister. She was beautiful inside and out. I would very much have liked to know, at the end, where the young couple made their home. In Return to Cranford, there are absent, as is Dr. Morgan, apparently.
I've given you my opinions of some the characters. Now to give you my opinion of those portraying them. The casting in this production is outstanding! Indeed, the cast members BECAME these characters. I'm not an expert, but I found no performance lacking.
The costumes, the sets, the locations, nothing is found wanting in this pristine production. From humor, to sadness, from long held love, to young love, from privilege, to poverty, this production covers the gamut.
I'll be honest. I have not yet watched the whole Return to Cranford. For me, having gotten so `into' the characters of Cranford, I found the sequel a bit disappointing and lost interest early on. So many of the characters in the first production are missing from that one, and the new ones introduced seem so much less `Cranfordish.' After some time has passed, I'll watch it. But it has a lot to live up to reach the standard of Cranford. I don't think it could be any better.