Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I honestly find it impossible to write about all the things I love about the new BBC series Cranford in a blog post of moderate length. Every detail contributes something extraordinary, including the quaintly animated opening credits to the stunningly composed scenes and beautiful photography, to a perfect British cast (Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, etc.), to the fact it’s an adaptation of an Elizabeth Gaskell novel. Likewise, it doesn’t hurt that Cranford was created by the two women (Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin) responsible for BBC’s excellent Pride and Prejudice and Wives and Daughters.

Now, I must fess up that I’ve not read Cranford, so I can’t say from firsthand experience how the show compares to the novel. However, I’ve read in online forums that even where they’ve added a bit to the storyline (it’s a relatively short novel, apparently), Birtwistle and Conklin stay true to Gaskell’s work. They even include several subtle jabs at Charles Dickens (a mentor of Gaskell's).

Chris and I laughed more in the first episode of this show than the entire P&P series (and I always laugh a great deal at that one). Cranford is a town full of gossiping (but not unkind) spinsters, so much of the humor features the hysterical Imelda Staunton jogging flustered and frumpily through the streets, nearly apoplectic to convey the latest news. My favorite character is the stalwart and puritanical Deborah, played by the marvelous Eileen Atkins. Here’s a sample of the first exchange that made Chris and I rock with laughter.

Deborah: I would prefer it if I did not enjoy oranges. Consuming them is a most incommodious business.
Matilda (Deborah's sister): There is not such a lot of juice, Deborah dear, when sliced with a knife.
Mary (Deborah & Mattie's young guest): At home, we make a hole in our oranges…and we suck them.
Deborah registers a silent expression of abject horror.
Matilda: That is the way I like to take them best, but Deborah says it is vulgar and altogether redolent of a ritual undertaken by little babies.... My sister does not care for the expression: suck.
Deborah cringes.
Deborah [in an authoritative tone]: We will repair to our rooms and eat our fruit in solitude.

The series is not only a comedy, and there are so many moving storylines and touching moments I can't begin to summarize them here. The many strong females are the backbone of the town, whereas the male characters are somewhat muted and incidental. However, there is one subplot I especially like about an estate agent working quietly and secretly to educate the young son (played by the adorable Alex Etel of Millions) of a degenerate squatter.

Everyone in Cranford has strong opinions. Many seem biased and regimented to a fault, yet every character has moments when she or he shows compassion to another person. The show has everything from cows in pajamas to funerals and romance, and I'm planning to buy the series to watch over and over again.

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