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Cranford (DVD Review)

18 May, 2008 By: Amanda McCorquodale


Street 5/20/08
BBC Video
$34.98 two-DVD set
Not rated.
Stars Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Simon Woods, Julia Sawalha.

Fans of period dramas will no doubt enjoy Cranford, a five-part miniseries from the BBC that is based on three novels by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Set in the 1840s, Cranford centers on a small English village that is perched just beyond the reach of the railway. It is a town with an unusually high population of spinsters and widows, and these women amuse, endear and entertain as they experience a town in transition.

The nearby railway threatens to bring city modernity into their small town; a new and unproven doctor uses the latest in medical practices; and the shortage of men means the women must take on nontraditional roles as entrepreneurs and heads of households.

Over the five episodes, the women learn to trust change and, true to the hardships of the time, they also endure the sad, untimely deaths of loved ones, have their lives turned upside down by unstable finances and must navigate the unforgiving divisions of social class.

Yet, there is also much joy and levity in Cranford. Mixed up Valentine's Day cards, a hairless cow in flannel underwear and a lace-eating cat are just some of the entertaining absurdities that make Cranford so enjoyable.

As with most BBC productions, Cranford's cast is outstanding and the performances are flawless. Silver screen greats such as Dench and Gambon give their usual best as do a host of other familiar faces: Woods (of HBO's “Rome”), Staunton (of Vera Drake) and Sawalha (of “Absolutely Fabulous”) to name just a few.

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