This five-part period drama is based on three novels by Elizabeth Gaskell. The cast includes the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Dame Eileen Atkins, Sir Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, and Francesca Annis—and Cranford only gets better from there.
The series begins with the arrival of two new residents, and an idea of things to come. Miss Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon) has fled Manchester and her meddling stepmother to stay with sisters Matty and Deborah Jenkins (Dench and Atkins). Frank Harrison (Simon Woods) is a handsome young doctor from London who causes quite a stir with his revolutionary medical practices.
The two newcomers learn very quickly what it means to be a resident of Cranford. The town is under the watchful and moral eye of Deborah Jenkyns, who defines the line between appropriate and inappropriate social behavior. Also keeping an eye (and ear) on things is busybody Miss Pole (Staunton) who, along with pal Mrs. Forrester (Julia McKenzie), provides fresh gossip to keep everyone on their toes, along with some of the series' finer comedic moments.
The interesting thing about Cranford is that it would be hard to imagine the story without a single one of the characters. Even the most insignificant characters are equipped with compelling backstories and personalities.
The story is not only about the people of Cranford, however, it is about Cranford itself—a town seemingly stuck in time, on the verge of change.
You really can't go wrong here. The script is superb, the acting flawless, and the scenery eye-catching. And there is something for everyone to enjoy, whether you're a fan of period dramas or not. Cranford is a story that you'll wish would never end, and place that you'll want to visit often.
The Cranford DVD set includes one behind-the-scenes extra called "The Making of Cranford" featuring interview with the creators, writers, and cast. Fans may choose instead to pick up The Cranford Collection boxed set, which includes this original series, plus the sequel Return to Cranford.