Recently at my Total Exposure yahoo group, I got online and gushed so fervently about the Masterpiece Theatre mini-series version of Cranford that I think I shocked my formerly calm and unsuspecting members. 🙂 I have reviewed this series here today, and I’m going to give away a copy of the collection in DVD next Tuesday, April 13, to one participant in the contest (chosen randomly). To enter, please tell one person about the contest that you think would enjoy winning the Cranford collection–I realize it’s not for everyone–either by Twitter, Facebook, or just by a regular email…however you like. Then come back to this post and leave a link or tell me who you told. (It’s not a cheap collection, so I’d like whoever wins it to really want it).
There are many of us, I believe, in the romance community who have seen North and South, which is also based on a novel by Elisabeth Gaskell. I’m very motivated at this point to read all this woman’s books. I’m not quite sure why we weren’t studying her in school if we were studying Austen and Dickens. In fact, Gaskell might be described, in a very sketchy sense, as a combination of those two great writers. She demonstrates all the quiet sensibilities of Austen combined with Dicken’s talent for turning a compassionate, often humorous eye, on all levels of society, rich and poor and everything in between. Gaskell also has an acute understanding of the huge impact of industrialization on English society. The mill in North and South and the railroad in Cranford are portrayed as both violent, destructive forces, but also great levelers of society…in essence, the harbingers of change to a class system and way of life that has stood inviolate for centuries.
Cranford is the story of ordinary life in a tiny English town; its great joys and sorrows and little everyday occurrences that had me laughing so hard at times. At the center of the stories are Cranford’s womenfolk, the spokes of the wheel in the turnings of this tiny little town. The narrator of the piece, Mary Smith, tells the young doctor that the Cranford womenfolk are “Amazons” which they really are. Gaskell leaves no doubt who the true rulers of Cranford are, and these ladies know that it’s not the men-folk of Cranford who eventually “˜allow’ the railway to come to Cranford…although the ladies are wise enough to let the men think they are the responsible ones.
One of the wonderful things about Cranford is that Gaskell shows no boundaries: romance is as deep and powerful for the middle aged and as it is for the young; heroism and strength are as manifest in the poor as the rich.
I’m in awe of Elizabeth Gaskell’s keen eye for characterization. She never took the easy way out with the people of Cranford. Lady Ludlow, the great lady of the district, is at times selfish, but we can’t help but sympathize with her great love for her children, misplaced as it is in the case of her son, Septimus. One of my favorite characters in the piece was Harry, a young boy who lives with his mother, father and a multitude of siblings inside a tiny, holey shack in the country. Through Harry, we come to understand the fear that the upper classes had of education. Reading is considered a threat to Lady Ludlow because it threatens the “natural order”. Look what happened in France, for instance, when the lower classes questioned the natural order of things? In a way, Harry and Lady Ludlow are at two ends of a spectrum in Cranford, and when they begin to interact, the consequences are as explosive as the dynamite bringing the railway to sleepy little Cranford.
Cranford is never heavy-handed or didactic. In fact, Cranford is lighter and more fun than North and South. I get the impression of Gaskell watching the whole process with a very loving, if acute eye. Mary Smith, the quiet, unassuming visitor and future author, sees Cranford and its wonderful little stories and idiosyncracies very much through the beneficent eye that reminds me of what Gaskell herself might have been like. The everyday activities and habits are no less important than the great or tragic. Both abound, but the story of a cat swallowing a particularly fine piece of lace when it is being whitened in a bowl of cream or the story of how one lady’s prize cow ends up having to wear grey flannel pajamas everywhere (flap included for milking) are equally as important as the more weighty sadness of death and love lost. Trust me, there are as many laughs in Cranford as there are tears, and it ends just perfectly.
Cranford has a stellar cast. The scope of the story is such that there are literally dozens of characters, and each is played to perfection. Even Tim Curry popping up at the end as the conjurer with the mischievious glint in his eye was priceless. There are no small parts in this fabulous film.
I’m looking forward to reading the book. I have good news for Kindle owners: Cranford, along with multiple Gaskell books, are available now for the best price of all: 0.00! Go to Amazon to download, and the other free books should pop up after you download Cranford.
I give Cranford the DVD 5/5 stars.