The highest rated BBC show last season was Cranford, written by Elisabeth Gaskell. With so many close degrees of separation from Jane Austen that we can't count them, we plan to review this series, to be show on PBS's Masterpiece Classic on May 4, 11, and 18th. The cast is sterling. Eileen Atkins (at right on left) received a BAFTA last week for her performance of Miss Deborah Jenkyns. Other notable actors include Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, Julia Sawalha, Francesca Annis, Simon Woods, and Philip Glenister.
Mrs. Gaskell's tale is radically different from a typical Jane Austen plot, for in Cranford men are looked upon with suspicion and are generally regarded a nuisance. This premise sets up one situation after another among the town spinsters, or Amazons as Elisabeth described them. Some of the scenes are comical, as with the cat who swallowed the lace, while some are heartbreaking, as with Matty Jenkyns's love story. There are a host of coincidences and improbable plot twists in this sweetly told Victorian tale, but by the time we realize we are being manipulated, we don't care, for Elisabeth Gaskell and screenwriter Heidi Thomas have totally won us over with their unforgettable characters.
Cranford celebrates the strength of female bonds and loyalty to each other and family. Oh, some men are considered useful: the doctor, for instance, and the estate manager, but overall this is a film that celebrates women in a positive and heartfelt way. The female characters remind me of the strong, smart, non-simpering women portrayed by actresses in Hollywood during the 1930's and 1940's, such as Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Mary Astor, Barbara Stanwyck, and Greta Garbo.
If you haven't read the novel, which is actually a compilation of stories that Elisabeth wrote for Household Words, a magazine written by Charles Dickens, click on the following link. You will find a lovely edition of Cranford, illustrated by Hugh Thompson, online. Better yet, run to your local bookstore and purchase a copy to read before the series begins. In order to truly prepare for this special event, you would have to read two other Elisabeth Haskell books: My Lady Ludlow, the story of Lady Ludlow played by Francesca Annis, and Mr. Harrison's Confessions, the story of the young doctor played by Simon Woods.
Posted by Ms. Place