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The Direction We Are Moving: An Advance Review of "Return to Cranford" on "Masterpiece Classic"

Every now and then a literary adaptation comes along that is so pitch-perfect, so precisely cast and beautifully written and directed, that it stands as a piece of art in its own right.

Masterpiece Classic kicks off its latest season with the superlative Return to Cranford (which aired in the UK several weeks ago under the title Cranford Christmas), based once again on the "Cranford" novels of Elizabeth Gaskell and here adapted by Heidi Thomas and directed by Simon Curtis.

As in the original Cranford, life in the sleepy English town of Cranford is in peril, thanks to the winds of change. The railroad--the focus of the first "Cranford" adaptation--has nearly reached the town and brought with it the unstoppable fumes of progress. The prim streets of the village have been filled by unruly railway workers and modern ideas have begun to seep into the minds of the town's most staunch residents. In other words: the industrial revolution has arrived.

Despite the unstoppable nature of change, several of Cranford's distinguished ladies have drawn a line in the sand, attempting to stand up to the railway and other ideas that they deem unsuitable. (That comes to include, later on, an unexpected romance that crosses classes, among other social conceits.) Returning to reprise her role as Miss Matty Jenkyns, Dame Judi Dench slowly begins a remarkable transformation, coping with the numerous losses she endured in the first Cranford miniseries and reeling from the specter of change in its many forms here. Despite the traumas she's encountered, Matty is just as sweet and saintly as ever and Dench turns in a remarkably nuanced performance as the charming old maid.

Also returning for this go-around, numerous familiar faces including Imelda Staunton, who plays the seething gossip Octavia Pole, the sweet Mrs. Forrester (Julia McKenzie) with her grey flannel-clad cow, uppity social climber Mrs. Jamieson (Barbara Flynn), Augusta Tomkinson (Deborah Findlay), dowager landowner Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis), local lad Harry Gregson (Alex Etel), and many others. Meanwhile, Celia Imrie, Jonathan Pryce, Lesley Sharp, and Tom Hiddleston comprise the expanded cast this time around, playing characters that take up the reins of the numerous romantic, social, and domestic subplots of Cranford.

The result is an extraordinary mix of social commentary, domestic satire, romantic drama, and condition-of-England plot. Even if you haven't seen the original Cranford, it's impossible not to be swept up in the compelling storytelling and dynamic plots of Return to Cranford. It's truly a Sunday evening treat and the perfect way to wind down your weekend. Once you set foot in the charming Cranford, you'll never want to leave.

Part One of Return to Cranford airs Sunday evening at 9 pm on PBS' Masterpiece Classic. Part Two airs the following week. Check local listings for details.


jen said…
Oooh, thanks for the reminder that this is coming soon! I really liked the first adaptation and am looking forward to this one.
Jennifer said…
I'm SO excited for this and the return of Masterpiece Classic as a whole. I enjoyed last season's Mystery, have yet to watch the recent Contemporary programs, but Classic is definitely my favorite!
MeganE said…
I loved the first Cranford and am so happy that they are doing a second one! (And very glad to hear that it's as good as the first!)

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