Cranford returns to BBC for Christmas special

by Lisa McGarry


The multi-award-winning Cranford returns to entertain and enthral BBC One audiences this Christmas with a two-part special.

Dame Judi Dench reprises her role as Cranford’s much cherished Miss Matty Jenkyns, and heads a cast that boasts Britain’s top film, television and stage talent including Cranford newcomers: Jonathan Pryce, Celia Imrie, Lesley Sharp, Nicholas Le Prevost, Jodie Whittaker, Tom Hiddleston, Michelle Dockery, Matthew McNulty, Rory Kinnear and Tim Curry.

Made by BBC Drama Production and WGBH in association with Chestermead, Cranford is created by Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin, written by Heidi Thomas and directed by Simon Curtis. It is based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel Cranford, woven together with other of her works. Cranford’s score was composed by Carl Davis.

Cautious not to spoil the surprises, tears and laughter that are so much part of the Cranford experience, Sue Birtwistle explains a little about the source material that forms the backbone of this new two-part special: “We took stock of our existing storylines, noting which had played themselves out naturally and which had further potential.

“We leapt at the opportunity to include two strands from Cranford that we hadn’t been able to include the first time around, introducing two colourful new characters: Lady Glenmire (Celia Imrie) and the conjuror Signor Brunoni (Tim Curry).

“We looked for additional source material to weave into the mix, and finally settled on two very different Gaskell stories that excited us: The Moorland Cottage and The Cage At Cranford.

“The novella The Moorland Cottage provided a rich seam of new characters to mine as well as introducing a fresh and original young, love story. The strife between the generations knitted in well with the ideas we were keen to explore, where the young people struggle to measure up to the expectations of the older generation, a theme deftly explored by writer Heidi Thomas.

“The delicious comedy of The Cage At Cranford, features Miss Pole and Mrs Forrester attempting to construct a cage for Miss Pole’s new parrot Polly-Cockatoo, with surprising results (we dubbed it The Ikea Story).”

Cranford’s millions of fans can rest assured that one certainty is the ever-popular ladies of Cranford, named The Amazons by Gaskell, are back and reunited in this two-part special feature.

Imelda Staunton returns as the irrepressible Miss Pole, Julia McKenzie returns as Mrs Forrester, and Deborah Findlay as Miss Tomkinson, with Barbara Flynn reprising Mrs Jamieson, whose aristocratic sister-in-law, Lady Glenmire (Celia Imrie) arrives and makes quite an impression on the friends.

We join Cranford in August 1844. It is one year since the small Cheshire market town celebrated the marriage of Sophy Hutton to Dr Harrison and two years since Miss Matty lost her beloved sister, Deborah.

Miss Matty knows only too well that faces will always come and go in Cranford, but for now she is happy that her dear brother, Peter (Nicholas Le Prevost) is home from India and that Martha (Claudie Blakley), Jem (Andrew Buchan) and baby Tilly make for a lively household; Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis) is eagerly awaiting the return of her long-absent son, Septimus (Rory Kinnear), and young Harry Gregson (Alex Etel) is about to start his education at Shrewsbury benefiting from the late Mr Carter’s bequest and the loyal, moral support of Miss Galindo (Emma Fielding).

Then there’s news that wealthy widower, Mr Buxton (Jonathan Pryce), has returned to live quietly in Cranford bringing with him his charming ward, Erminia, (Michelle Dockery) and his handsome Eton-educated son, William (Tom Hiddleston).

Whilst at nearby Thorn Cottage, Peggy Bell (Jodie Whittaker) tries to make the best of things caring for her demanding mother (Lesley Sharp) and opportunistic brother Edward (Matthew McNulty).

Elsewhere, the world continues to change, but for now the railway has stopped five miles outside Cranford, in spite of the best efforts of Captain Brown (Jim Carter) to bring the modern age right into the heart of King Street. But nothing can stay the same forever and all too soon life in Cranford will change in some very unexpected ways.

Then just at the moment when Miss Matty is selflessly thankful for all her blessings during the Christmas festivities, the magic of Signor Brunoni makes her heart sing.

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