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Cranford (2007) (DVD)
The BBC drama series adapted from Mary Gaskells classic novels of small town gossip, secrets and romance. 1842. Cranford, a market town in the North West of England, is a place governed by etiquette, custom and above all, an intricate network of ladies. It seems that life has always been conducted according to their social rules, but Cranford is on the cusp of change…]]>
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Going in, your typical red-blooded American male might be put off a bit; judging by it's cover, Cranford appears to be just another in a long line of boring English bonnet romances, full of people in wigs and weird clothes sitting around in parlours talking to each other. If you're looking for a testosterone-fueled trip through hell, a la Tarantino, Peckinpah or Woo, you might be disappointed. I waited and waited, but I could find not one fist fight, stabbing, shooting, rape, steamy sex scene, unexposed nipple or horrible murder in the whole dang thing!
But gents, don't automatically dismiss this one: if you look, you will find a surprising amount of death, gore and violence: in one scene, a kid smashes in the skull of a defenseless rabbit. In another, a cat pukes up some hand-knit lace. And then a cow falls into a lime pit and gets all it's hide burned off. So I guess you could say that animals have a tough time in this miniseries.
But the people have some rough patches as well. In the first twenty minutes the young carpenter Jem falls from a ladder and suffers a compound fracture of his right forearm, which is pretty gruesome. You wouldn't think that there would be many deaths in this one either, but it seems like people are keeling over every other minute. A very young kid dies of croup, a crippled young woman dies of who knows what, one of the main characters, Deborah Jenkyns (Eileen Atkins), strokes out, and the great Michael Gambon's character, the lovelorn Mr. Holbrook, contracts pneumonia and bites it before he has a chance to marry his long lost love, Mattie Jenkyns ((there is nothin' like a DAME) Judy Dench). The local shopkeeper Mr. Johnson is clubbed on the back of his head and robbed. A family of squatters is forced to live in abject squalor while the father must poach game to keep his family from starvation.
There is a top-notch "babe" in the series too. Kimberly Nixon plays the young daughter of the local parson. She is a "pretty as a picture" actress, first-rate eye candy, a perfect rosy-cheeked beauty seemingly born for this type of film, who will have a long and very bright future in the many inevitable English period romances to be produced over the next ten years. I hoped and prayed for a scene of her swimming naked in a sylvan lake or even a brief glimpse of her in the boudoir, but alas it never happened. I guess you will have to use your imagination.
Another huge negative: it appeared there were no "pavement princesses" or brothels in the town of Cranford. Or they chose not to show us. Damn!
Nor were there coach chases, bloody shootouts, pub brawls, adulterers, adulteresses or dispicable villains in Cranford.
However, you do get a lot of humor, color, poignancy, romance, emotion, beauty, magnificent costumes, fabulous photography, and wonderful character development and acting. With all that, I guess I can overlook the absence of fist fights and sex. I hate to admit that; it's not very manly of me, but it's true. Cranford did not suck.
This is not Jane Austen, although there are similarities. There are groups of women, lots of relationships, humor and romance; however, death, disease and disaster also rear up and are more prevalent, and exposed here.
The author, Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) lived after Austen, and wrote the great novels to PBS movies of 'North and South', Wives and Daughters' and was friends with Charlotte 'don't call me Jane Ayre' Bronte. Gaskell penned Bronte's Biography after her demise, and it was in Charles Dicken's mag, 'Household Words' that Cranford appeared in 1853.
Bringing this enchanting place to a 5-hour period piece is an immense undertaking, and BBC does a great job at it. After the recent downpour of Jane Austen/Jane Ayre re-do's, one wonders if there are any towns left to film in England not seen, any English actors not used, any costumes, music, directors, etc., etc., not indulged. Well, it's a different time period than Austen's, and one can't ever get enough English countryside or actors, such as Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins, who portray the sisters and are simply marvelous. Their characters compliment and confront each other perfectly. Atkins plays the crusty one but with a good heart. Dench is sweet and knowing, and through their eyes, Cranford unfolds. On the higher, social spectrum, Lady Ludlow(Francesca Annis) reigns solo, gripping tightly onto her fading world and aplomb.
It's not just a world of older matriarchs, but of young love and misunderstandings, professional clashes between generations, and the ever dominating class struggles. The movie hops and interacts between all the storylines in potpourri fashion, sometimes outrageously funny, other times sad but not morose. Amazing that the editing flows so well.
Although it's not as light and frisky as the BBC/A&E 'Pride and Prejudice' (a tough comparison!), it merits it own applause as a very fine, very 'proper' comedy/drama. And apparently a sequel is planned. I guess I'll never get out of this town. Enjoy.