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6 Degrees Entertainment

'Cranford: Return to Cranford'
(Judi Dench, Tim Curry, Eileen Atkins, Philip Glenister, Michael Gambon, Francesca Annis, et al / 2-Disc DVD / NR / 2010 / BBC Home Video)

Overview: Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, Francesca Annis and Julia McKenzie star in this two-part sequel to the Emmy-winning BBC/PBS drama, Cranford. Miss Matty's house is full of life and bustle. Her dream of having a child in the house has been realized in the birth of Tilly, daughter of her maid Martha and carpenter Jem.

DVD Verdict: This is not really a sequel (though some story arcs from the original do get developed here), but a 2-part special that is inspired in part by Cranford, and also two other stories by author Elizabeth Gaskell, i.e. "The Moorland Cottage", and also "The Cage at Cranford", see Three Tales of Cranford: Cranford, The Cage at Cranford, and The Moorland Cottage.

Besides the familiar and beloved cast of the original Cranford such as Miss Matty (Dame Judi Dench), Miss Pole (Imelda Staunton), Mrs Forrester (Julia McKenzie), Miss Tomkinson (Deborah Findlay), etc. several new characters are introduced, such as Lady Glenmire (played by Celia Imrie), and the conjuror Signor Brunoni(Tim Curry).

The first part is set in summer 1844 - it has been two years since dear Miss Matty (Dame Judi Dench in another luminous portrayal) lost her beloved sister Deborah, and a year since Sophy Hutton married Dr Harrison (these two characters are no longer in this show). Miss Matty seems content with the presence of her brother Peter (Nicholas Le Prevost) who is home from India, and helps look after Tilly, the baby of her maid Martha and carpenter Jem Hearne.

The continuity from the original Cranford is seen in the railway project which still looms menacingly over the town. Things are also made more exciting with the arrival of Mr. Buxton, a wealthy widower who lives with his ward Erminia (Michelle Dockery) and his son William (Tom Hiddleston who is quite the eye candy).

Life in Cranford is always full of surprises and when Lady Ludlow's long absent son Septimus (Rory Kinnear) arrives, things take unexpected turns, precipitated by a tragedy in the family. The old tensions are there - especially between those that are against the railroad project and those ,like Captain Brown and young William who feel that modernization is essential to Cranford's long-term survival. Miss Matty, in her usual subtle fashion, gets involved in some of these village proceedings, with some rather startling results.

The second part is set later in the year 1844, October up till Christmas - Miss Matty and her friends are predictably excited at the visit of Lady Glenmire (Celia Imrie) but when Mrs Jamieson (Barbara Flynn) feels no one amongst her peers is of suitably high rank to meet her, she and Lady Glenmire get snubbed by Matty and company and it is left to Lady Glenmire to set things right in a most memorable way.

Matty also faces some challenges that involves a falling out amongst her circle of friends,a serious romance between William and a young woman deemed unsuitable by his father (which has Matty pondering the wisdom of her 'involvement' in bringing the pair together), and more tragedy on the horizon, affecting the citizens of Cranford.

A fair note of warning - this particular installment in the Cranford franchise is much more subdued than the original and there's quite a fair bit of tragedy - there's death (involving a couple of familiar characters who were also in the original), grief, tension, family drama, imperiled friendships, the age-old battle between those opposed to change and those who embrace the challenges of modernization, etc., but there's also romance and lighthearted moments.

However, I can understand how this particular follow-up might disappoint purists who loved the original and how well it adhered to Gaskell's novel. Personally, I loved the original Cranford and thought it was a superior production, and though I like RTC, the plot is not as engaging as the original. As for the production qualities - they are excellent. [ZH] This is a Widescreen presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.