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. …

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To its credit, almost the entire cast (at least of the surviving characters) returns for this two-part sequel. Still fluttering about gossiping like a cluster of chickens are Miss Matty Jenkyns (Judi Dench), Mrs. Forrester (Julia McKenzie), Miss Pole (Imelda Staunton), Miss Tomkinson (Deborah Findlay), and the slightly more hoity-toity Mrs. Jamieson (Barbara Flynn). This …

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