Review: “Cranford”, BBC1 – “…and then arrived the flying monkeys…”

29 December, 2009 at 12:58 am 7 comments

“Napoleon! Come here!”
“How can you expect him [the dog] to behave with such a name?”

Costume drama is as much a traditional part of Christmas as gammon, candles and cats wrecking the tree. Aunt Beep didn’t disappoint and assembled an impressive cast in front of the cameras, plus assorted cows for a bit of country atmosphere. The result was “Cranford”, a bonnet drama based on the works of Mrs. Gaskell, and for the entertaining two-parter goes the same as for the cats wrecking the tree: if there’d been fewer ornaments and stars, there’d been less chaos.

CRANFORD: Synopsis part I

CRANFORD: Synopsis part II

Cast: Miss Matty Jenkyns (Dame Judi Dench), Peter Jenkyns (Nicholas Le Prevost), Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon), Martha (Claudie Blakley), Jem Hearne (Andrew Buchan), Miss Pole (Imelda Staunton) , Mrs Forrester (Julia McKenzie), Mrs Jamieson (Barbara Flynn), Miss Tomkinson (Deborah Findlay), Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis), Lord Septimus Hanbury (Rory Kinnear), Sir Charles Maulver (Greg Wise), Harry Gregson (Alex Etel), Miss Galindo (Emma Fielding), Rev Hutton (Alex Jennings), Captain Brown (Jim Carter), Mr Johnson (Adrian Scarborough), Mrs Johnson (Debra Gillett), Mr Buxton (Jonathan Pryce), William Buxton (Tom Hiddleston), Erminia (Michelle Dockery), Peggy Bell (Jodie Whittaker), Mrs Bell (Lesley Sharp), Edward Bell (Matthew McNulty), Miss Matty Jenkyns (Dame Judi Dench), Lady Glenmire (Celia Imrie), Signor Brunoni (Tim Curry)

BUY THE DVD (released on 28 December, 2009)

Don’t get me wrong: it was good to return to “Cranford”, and I enjoyed it a lot. I loved seeing the “Amazons” again, and as far as the cast is concerned, you just can’t go wrong with artists like Dame Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, Julia McKenzie, Deborah Findlay, Barbara Flynn or Jonathan Pryce. Not to mention Lesley Sharp, a fantastic actress (“Afterlife”), and Andrew Buchan, who many of you will remember from “Garrow’s Law”.

Superb acting in wonderful costumes, but while this Christmas special was entertaining, characters were thrown at you and disappeared again at such speed and in such great numbers that watching the programme once wasn’t enough to keep track of everything and everybody. It would be nice to enjoy a show without having to make notes and keeping a flowchart.

The last 45 minutes of the series ran at 78RPM rather than at 33, and had more of daily soap than costume drama:

Embezzlement! Blackmail! Heartbreak!

Peggy sacrifices her love and happiness to accompany dastardly, money-embezzling brother Edward, who’s fleeing the authorities by train. Young Harry runs away to avoid further bullying at school, stumbles over a rope and incidentally frees Mrs. O’Leary’s Forrester’s cow. Meanwhile William Buxton, Peggy’s knight on a white horse, chases after the train to save her from a life in misery. Harry jumps from a bridge on the train, the cow trots off and comes to stand on the railtracks, and- well, guess where this is going…

Crash! Panic! Drama!

William’s desperately searching Peggy while evil Edward picks her purse and runs off. The train explodes (why? I mean… what did explode there? The fuel tank boiler?) and, in a rare act of divine justice, Edward dies. But before we really get into celebrating his demise, we learn that William is deadly wounded. Oh no! And Harry is dead as well! Or isn’t he…?

All that, plus resolutions for all plotlines and a cameo of Tim Curry as eye-rolling magician crammed into 45 minutes. I guess we have to be grateful the writers didn’t squeeze in flying monkeys and a dinosaur as well.

There were many humorous moments (the “sous-jupe”-turned-parrot-cage, for example), and as a viewer, I shared the ladies’ excitement during their first ride on a train (an amazing thing to do at that time!), but at least to me, the most memorable moments were the silent ones.

There’s Harry (Alex Etel), receiving an embroidered pen wiper from his mother as a parting gift. She can’t write, so his initials are “XX”.

And Miss Matty braiding Martha’s hair after she dies, and kissing the last loaf of bread she baked. Martha’s carpenter husband Jem Hearne (very moving: Andrew Buchan) mourning his wife and deadborn child, and mending his wee daughter Tilly’s shoes.

Martha’s death added the realism to “Cranford” that stopped it from drifting off into the territory of “romantic history”. More than the arrival of the railroad, Harry’s suffering at school, his mother’s poverty or Mr Buxton’s disapproval of his son William’s love for “lowly” (lovely!) Peggy Bell, this death reminded us that “Cranford” is set in the 19th century,which wasn’t as idyllic as it is so often portrayed in costume dramas. (Or as clean…)

Another lovely moment: Miss Matty reads her old dance card and looks in the mirror at the run-down assembly room, remembering the days of her youth and the love she has lost.

Those touching moments make “Cranford”. I’d love to see another special, but hope the writers will realise that there’s no need to rush.

And no need for dogs in clothes, either. Historical correctness be damned, the poor dog looked miserable. And if you want to make me really happy, cast cows with horns next time, thank you.



Entry filed under: tv. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Age of Sail: Painting of Naval Battle – does anybody know anything about this? Happy New Year!

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Liz Hanbury  |  30 December, 2009 at 12:59 am

    I enjoyed your the review and lovely screencaps, JM – thanks!

    I don’t normally blub at TV programmes, but my bottom lip started to wibble when Harry gave Mrs. Forrester the new heifer and I entered full box of tissues mode when Tilly emerged from the cupboard! Wonderful.

    And Andrew B just gets better and better… ;0)

    PS Love your LiveJournal userpics, especially the Garrow ones. You are very talented. Do you allow people to use them as long as they credit you or is that a no-no?
    I’d also like to link to this blog from mine, if that’s OK?

    • 2. joyfulmolly  |  30 December, 2009 at 9:05 am

      Thank you! Making screencaps is half the fun, so I’m glad you enjoyed them. :O)

      There’s really not much on TV that makes me cry (well, the godawful programming aside), but Martha’s death took my sleeve in. And Andrew Buchan is really good; I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for a return of Garrow’s Law.

      Icons: please help yourself and take what you like (unless it’s one marked as “personal icon”, but I don’t have many of those). Credit is nice, but not needed. They are just icons, and the more people have fun with them, the better. :0)

      And of course you can link back, thanks a lot! JM contains many writer’s resources, and what’s here and public is free to share. Good to know you have fun with it!

  • 3. Liz Hanbury  |  30 December, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Thanks for the response JM :0)

    Apart from Cranford there was very little else worth watching over the xmas period. Dire indeed.

    I’m keeping everything crossed for a second series of Garrow’s Law. Even AA Gill liked it – that’s a blue moon event ;0) ! I treated myself to a copy of ‘Sir William Garrow: His Life, Times and Fight for Justice’ and it confirms Garrow was a fascinating man. His views on the slave trade and animal welfare were well ahead of his time.

    Thanks re: the icons and confirmation it is OK to link :0) I’ll add you asap, and of course, feel free to check out my website and blog for useful content.

  • 4. Nigel Brazier  |  4 January, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    I feel that you have summed it up very well, they could have easily run this over at least another 90 minutes with more character storyline development. Peggy and William seemed to happen far too quickly!
    As an aside you might like to know that the railway scenes were all shot at the Foxfield Railway, Blythe Bridge, Staffordshire. The locomotive used is Bellerophon which was built in 1874 so is 30 years too young in reality, but looks reasonably accurate for all that. Oh and I was the driver of the train!

    • 5. joyfulmolly  |  4 January, 2010 at 11:54 pm

      It was really rushed, but luckily, the acting saved the day. Still, I enjoyed “Cranford” a lot, let’s hope for more specials or maybe even a new series.

      And thanks so much for the additional information about the railway scenes and the locomotive! While watching the the series, I tried to imagine what it must have been like in those days of the first steam trains. Lucky you for driving the train! If you don’t mind, I’d like to put that bit with a link to your blog up here on JM. I’m sure many people are interested, but don’t read the comments. Thank you!

      • 6. Nigel Brazier  |  5 January, 2010 at 10:16 am

        By all means add a link and comments in, I will put a link into the Foxfield Blog too.

  • […] start with the information that the BBC’s bonnet-drama “Cranford” (see my review) is already out on DVD. You can buy it on Amazon, just click the cover […]


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