DVD Verdict: Cranford aka the Cranford Chronicles, based on Elizabeth Gaskell's story is a stellar production. It is a lush period drama and is very authentic in its portrayal of people living in a little hamlet called Cranford. The sets are beautiful as are the costumes, and of course the production is elevated to a level of excellence by its impeccable casting. Writer Heidi Thomas does a wonderful job of adapting Elizabeth Gaskell's story [purportedly based on Gaskell's own hometown] and though liberties are taken, the stellar cast more than makes up for whatever deficiencies there may be in the faithfulness of the adaptation.
Dame Eileen Atkins [Miss Deborah Jenkins] and Dame Judi Dench [Miss Matty Jenkins] portray two spinster sisters in 1842 who live in the little town of Cranford. Far from being a quiet little hamlet, this little town hums with activity and village gossips, especially a Miss Pole [Imelda Staunton]who flits around from one hearsay to another, avidly passing on any little nuggets of gossip to the other inhabitants.
Cranford is set aflutter by the arrival of a new doctor, Dr Harrison [Simon Woods] who is young, handsome, single and very much into trying new methods of treatment, to the initial consternation of the townspeople. Dr Harrison finds himself attracted to a beautiful local lass, Sophy [Kimberly Nixon] though he inadvertently attracts the romantic affections of other single women in Cranford. But the story does not merely focus on romance, as there are other more serious themes underlying the series.
For one, there is talk of a railroad being built that would go through Cranford, and disrupt the idyllic life in the village, giving rise to the inevitable battle between modernization and the desire for things to remain unchanged. The local rich lady, Lady Ludlow portrayed by Francesca Annis is very much opposed to change, and not only opposes the railroad but also any form of societal change, such as literacy amongst the lower classes [she refuses to hire a maid who is literate, saying the girl's parents did her a disservice by teaching her to read].
There is also the theme of lost love, death and grief. Miss Matty Jenkins[ Judi Dench] finds herself recounting the tale of her lost love [played by Michael Gambon]. This is what makes Cranford such an engaging viewing experience - the absurd [the story of the cat swallowing an antique lace and how the lace is retrieved] is interlaced with tales of poignancy and everything unfolds leisurely. It is a tale that we wish will never end, and hope to revisit again and again. [ZH] This is a Widescreen presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of: