What a piece to treasure is Cranford.
This BBC series, which has already aired on Pay TV, is set in a quaint British village in the early 1840’s. Usually period tales from the land of Jane Austen, or as produced by Merchant Ivory, are a bit stuffy. They always look handsome but seem to lack a certain sense of humour.
This adaptation of three novellas by Elizabeth Gaskill has it all: the cast, the costumes, the scenery, the story, and a decided spring in its step.
Dame Judi Dench plays Matilda Jenkins, an elderly spinster who rooms with her sister Deborah Jenkins (Eileen Atkins). Together with houseguest Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon), these ladies revel in respectability, as moral observers and guardians of standards in society. Visitors must be announced. Oranges should be consumed in private. Women never attend funerals. They are the preservers of decency, who gasp in horror at anyone who is less than exemplary.
Women of Cranford seem to delight in gossip, particularly Octavia Pole (Imelda Staunton) and widow Mrs Forrester (Julia McKenzie) -a priceless comedy duo.
New arrivals in the town, bachelor Dr Frank Harrison (Simon Woods), is soon the apple of many eyes. Neighbour Captain Brown (Jim Carter) and his unmarried daughter Jessie Brown (Julia Sawahla) keep everyone guessing with their intentions, fuelled by keeping their distance.
But the town of Cranford is about to undergo great change, with the arrival of the railway. It will threaten their peace, properties, and more particularly, their old fashioned ways of life.
Mixed into scenes of austere drama are several glorious comedy moments. The more this unfolds, the more the crusty old characters of the story will win your affections.
The actors demonstrate great restraint, tempered by several rollicking subplots. What you will see with a cat and white lace is not easily forgotten.
Decorating the screen are detailed costumery, lavish settings and lush cinematography. The cast is a knockout, the music spoils you.
No wonder this has been such a winner at awards nights.
Cranford airs 8:30pm Sunday on ABC1.