TV Review: Cranford

As the nights darken, a rewatch of the delightful Cranford might be just the thing

“What about the trout?
‘The trout can wait'”

I’ve long been planning a rewatch of Cranford as I’ve never actually seen it again since it aired back in 2008 and happily, it didn’t disappoint. What I didn’t remember though, is how much it is Dame Judi Dench torture porn as her Miss Matty is put through the wringer in episode after episode. Though we begin with the delightful minutiae of life in the Cheshire village – the etiquette of orange eating, lace-cleaning techniques and latest trends in turbans – things soon turn much darker as she goes through extraordinary loss time and time again.

It is a classic Dench role and one which she delivers note-perfect as she wrestles for pragmatism in ever-increasing grief. But the joy of Cranford is in the strength and depth of its ensemble which is chock full of our finest actors. Eileen Atkins as Matty’s older sister Deborah, Deborah Findlay’s Augusta, Imelda Staunton’s Octavia and Julia McKenzie’s Mrs Forrester are the fast friendship group at the heart of the village and all its gossip and every scene with them is an absolute delight, whether dealing with the tiny everyday crises of life or responding to more significant societal change.

Their reaction to the arrival of the new-fangled doctor is amusing but insightful as to the evolving nature of medicine. And one of the more powerful early scenes deals with the restrictive coded behaviours expected of society, culminating in the rather moving decision to challenge what is deemed acceptable at funerals. Drawing from Elizabeth Gaskell’s novellas, Heidi Thomas’ scripts do similar work to her Call The Midwife in finding real emotional depth and conviction in writing that might be too easily dismissed for not being ‘serious’ enough due to its focus on womens’ lives.

That ensemble though. Lesley Manville as a widowed housekeeper daring to dream, Claudie Blakley’s devoted maid, Francesca Annis’ town grandee, Alex Jennings’ vicar, Adrian Scarborough and Debra Gillett in their shop, Barbara Flynn, Lisa Dillon, Julia Sawalha, Michael Gambon, Philip Glenister, it is a cast of dreams and thus still a highly watchable show.

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