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Wednesday, May 7

Cranford's Younger Spinsters and the Actresses Who Played Them

Kimberley Nixon
Character: Sophie Hutton, minister’s daughter, Dr. Harrison’s love interest, and mother figure to her siblings. She was thrust into the role at too young an age. Sophie reminds me of Fanny Knight, Jane Austen’s niece, who was the eldest of eleven children. When Fanny’s mother died, she served as mistress to her father’s household and took care of her ten younger siblings. Fanny bore nine children of her own. One can quite imagine that after Sophie Hutton marries her doctor, she will live her life much as Fanny did, in the bosom of her family and raising children.

Kimberley Nixon’s association with an Austen adaptation is through Felicity Jones, who played Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey 2007. Both actresses were featured in Screen News in 2007 as Stars of Tomorrow. Kimberley’s career began with Cranford, which she began filming before she had finished her degree at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Kimberley's next project is a boarding school comedy called Wild Child, released in March, in which she torments a spoiled newcomer, played by American actress Emma Roberts. We suspect Kimberley has a long career ahead of her.

Read more about Kimberley at this BBC Press Site, and at these other sites:

Kimberley Nixon plays Sophy Hutton

Screen Daily News, along with Felicity Jones, a star of tomorrow

Lisa Dillon
Character:Mary Smith, the narrator of the Cranford Chronicles in the book, and the voice of, as some suspect, author Elizabeth Gaskell. As an outsider, Mary's close observations of the townsfolk of Cranford allow her to solve a few crucial puzzles and resolve some issues, tying important loose ends together. Mary Smith represents the new, independent woman, one who is unafraid to live as a single woman on her stipend, and who is eager to experience the world before settling down.

Watch Lisa discuss Cranford on BBC Breakfast

Lisa Dillon's association with an Austen adaptation is that she played in Cambridge Spies along with Rupert Penry-Jones, who played Captain Wentworth. Until recently, Lisa and Patrick Stewart were a couple in real life. Patrick played opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers in The Lion in Winter. Jonathan played opposite Keira Knightley in Bend it Like Beckham, and Keira played Lizzy in Pride and Prejudice 2005. (Four degrees of separation).

In 2003, Lisa was awarded the London Critics Circle Theatre Award for Most Promising Newcomer. Her father was Janek Stawiarski, a Polish refugee whose family moved to Coventry after the War. While Lisa as Mary has been given the role of observer, she plays the part so well that, as a friend observed, I can't take my eyes away from her.

Read more about Lisa at this BBC Press site, and at these other sites:

Lisa Dillon: Royal Academy of Dramatic Art

Lisa Dillon IMBd biography

Claudie Blakley
Character: Martha, the maid of all work with the heart of gold. Martha so adores Mattie, that she is willing to work for her for free. While there were many more upper class widows and spinsters in Cranford than eligible men to go around, there were plenty of lusty young men for the lower class women. Martha loves Jem the carpenter, but must keep her relationship with him a secret because of Miss Mattie's strictures. This film adaptation demonstrates the two different forms that courtship takes in this town: that of the doctor and the minister's daughter, who don't dare to touch; and that of the carpenter and the maid of all work, who lie together in a field or side by side in a bed before marriage.

People will recognize Claudie as Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice 2005 (one degree of separation), and the sad, ignored Mabel Nesbit in Gosford Park. Known largely for her work on stage, Claudie is currently starring in Lark Rise to Candleford.

You can see Claudie at the far left in the cast photo of Pride and Prejudice 2005 below. Can you recognize all the other P&P actors and the characters they played?


Julia Sawalha
Character: Jessie Brown. Jessie Brown is a character too good to be believed, sacrificing her youth and happiness to take care of an ailing mother and sister, and turning down a marriage proposal for the second time in order to take care of her father. Will Jessie ever find happiness? Stay tuned and find out.

Click here to watch BBC's Breakfast interview with Julia




Julia is probably the best known actress playing one of the young spinsters. I loved watching Julia as Saffron Monsoon in Absolutely Fabulous, sparring with her mother, Edina, and best friend Patsy. Her turn as the level-headed daughter was spot on. Julia also played Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, 1995. Although she played the character with youthful energy, I never quite thought her right for the part. She was also the voice actress in Chicken Run, playing Ginger, the romantic lead. In my estimation, the best part she ever won was as Maria Mason in Horatio Hornblower. Her character married the handsome Horatio, but alas this wonderful perk came with a price: poor Maria died in child bed.

Click here for an extensive biography on Julia

Click here for a series of Julia Sawalha links

Selina Griffiths
Character: Caroline Tomkinson. Caroline is the sort of sexually repressed Victorian spinster that Sigmund Freud liked to observe. A lusty girl with a yen for living, she is constrained to live a sedate existence in a town where eligible men are few and far between for a woman of her station. Caroline feels her biological clock ticking, and her heart palpitates any time she is near the new doctor. While she bats her eyelashes at him, he has only thoughts of Sophie.

Selina’s work biography is short but excellent, and as Marigold in the Smoking Room she wowed this critic.Her mother is actress Annette Crosby, who played opposite David Rintoul in Dr. Finlay. David played Mr. Darcy in 1980. (Two degrees of Austen adaptation separation.) Annette also played in Calendar Girls with Ciaran Hinds, who played Captain Wentworth.

Can't get enough of Cranford? Find out more about the series in The Life of Wylie

Click here to view the characters of Cranford on the PBS site.

Missed Cranford? Click here to watch it on PBS until May 23. After May 23rd, click here to see it on YouTube: Cranford with foreign subtitles
Posted by Ms. Place

3 comments:

Georgie said...

I've loved Julia Sawalha since AbFab and 1995 P&P. Cranford has finally come to the US so I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Susie Vereker said...

Belated comment from Hampshire/Jane Austen country: Annette Crosbie is also famous for playing the put-upon wife in One-Foot in the Grave.
Selina Griffiths was the excellent narrator of the audio version of my novel 'An Old-Fashioned Arrangement'. She read it with great verve and seemed to be enjoying herself.

abby ingersoll said...

This is such a terrific movie! I watch it over and over! Delightful, and very entertaining. I loved all the actors and actresses. I only wish there was more!