Cranford is a BBC television series based on four books by Elizabeth Gaskell: Cranford, Mr Harrison's Confessions, and My Lady Ludlow, with themes from The Last Generation in England. The teleplay was written by award-winning playwright and screenwriter Heidi Thomas.Set in the early 1840s in the fictional village of Cranford in the county of Cheshire in North West England, the story focuses primarily on the town's single and widowed middle class female inhabitants who are comfortable with their traditional way of life and place great store on propriety and maintaining an appearance of gentility. Among them are the spinster Jenkyns sisters, Matilda (called 'Matty') and Deborah; their houseguest from Manchester, Mary Smith; Octavia Pole, the town's leading gossip; the Tomkinson sisters, Augusta and Caroline; Mrs Forrester, who treats her beloved cow Bessie as she would a daughter; Mrs Rose, the housekeeper for Doctor Harrison; Jessie Brown, who rejects Major Gordon's marriage proposal twice despite her feelings for him; Laurentia Galindo, a milliner who strongly believes men and women are on equal footing; the Honourable Mrs Jamieson, a snob who dresses her dog in ensembles to match her own; Sophy Hutton, the vicar's eldest daughter and surrogate mother to her three younger siblings, who is courted by Doctor Harrison; and the aristocratic Lady Ludlow, who lives in splendour at Hanbury Court and perceives change as a peril to the natural order of things.The principal male characters are new arrival Doctor Frank Harrison, who is smitten with Sophy but unwittingly becomes the romantic target of both Mrs Rose and Caroline Tomkinson, who frequently feigns illness to hold his attention; Dr Morgan, an old-fashioned practitioner who finds himself challenged by the modern ideas of his young partner; Captain Brown, a military man whose common sense earns him a place of authority among the women; Edmund Carter, Lady Ludlow's land agent, a reformer who strongly advocates free education for the working class; Harry Gregson, the ambitious ten-year-old son of an impoverished poacher, who as Mr Carter's protégé learns to read and write; farmer Thomas Holbrook, Miss Matty's one-time suitor, who was considered unsuitable by her family but is anxious to renew his relationship with her; Reverend Hutton, a widower with four children whose religious conviction is sometimes at odds with his instincts as a father; and Sir Charles Maulver, the local magistrate and director of the railway company.The original mini-series was followed two years later by a sequel, Return to Cranford. Wealthy widower Mr Buxton returns to live in Cranford with his son William and ward Erminia. Peggy Bell finds friends outside the circle of her unappreciative family, but must hold fast in the face of adversity. Mrs Jamieson is highly gratified when her sister-in-law, Lady Glenmire, comes to visit, but finds that nothing goes as she expected. Harry Gregson struggles with unforeseen difficulties along the path on which he was set by Mr Carter. The railway approaches Cranford, and with it many signs of change; Miss Matty comes to believe that change must be embraced for the sake of Cranford's future, and persuades her friends to share the belief, with seemingly disastrous consequences.
Aerith and Bob: There's a few Latin names (Septimus, Erminia, Octavia, Laurentia) thrown in amongst your standard English (Matty, Peggy, Mary, Jessie, etc). Truth in Television — Latin names were rather popular in the Victorian era.
Alliterative Name: The title and the surname combined are of irresistible alliterative appeal: Lady Ludlow.
All-Star Cast: The cast list reads like a "Who's Who" of the best of the British acting world.
Ambiguously Gay: Septimus. He lives in Italy and never comes home, the excuse being his poor health. His mother says she still hopes he will find a bride and produce an heir for their family estate. Miss Galindo and Sir Charles nod thoughtfully and say she shouldn't hope too much. In Return to Cranford, Septimus does show up with a whiny man who acts more like his significant other than a mere intimate friend. It's strongly implied that he's gay but argument could be made against it as well.
Audience Surrogate: Mary Smith acts as one. Her mother came from Cranford, but she comes from Manchester herself. She ships Sophy and Dr. Harrison, is helpful to Dr Harrison and the Misses Jenkyns, investigates the incident with Valentine cards, and then as an guardian angel, she solves most problems by writing letters to appropriate places.
Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Mary's stepmother is a matchmaker from hell who desperately tries to marry her off to whomever would make an offer. She comments on her appearance (why didn't she curl her hair?) and forces her to hold a baby in order to make Mary appear more feminine and domestic, even though Mary clearly doesn't want to.
Anyone Can Die: No one is safe. Ever. Children, young people, old people, ill ones as well as healthy ones. And they are characters you care about, or if they are secondary characters, their death causes major distress to the prominent ones.
Break the Cutie: Miss Matty gets her heart broken at least once an episode. Seeing as how she's played by Judi Dench, tears from viewers follow.
Bridal Carry: This Stock Pose can be seen several times; mostly with bride and groom, but also when a father carries his ill daughter.
Jessie Brown has lost her bloom, nursing her ill mother and then sister. She had a suitor but turned him down because she felt an obligation to her family. Her father never noticed the relationship and quite insensitively tells her that she never even had a chance, even though he loves her deeply and is a caring parent.
Averted with Miss Mary Smith. She appears to be in her mid-twenties, though her age is never stated. She says about herself that she's young and has no reason to feel dissatisfied with her lot. Her young step-mother desperately wants to marry her off, but Mary only feels embarrassed by her vulgar matchmaking. She never says never, but it would have to feel right, and she also says she hasn't yet felt a desire to have children of her own. In Return to Cranford, she gets engaged, but breaks it off and decides to move to London to pursue a career as a writer.
Cool Old Lady: A cast full of them, particularly Miss Matilda "Matty" Jenkyns.
"My age? My age? How old do you think I am that you talk about my age?"
Disappearing Box: Used in one of the most heartwarming moments on British television.
Disney Death: Near the end of the last episode, young Harry is found dead, and Mr Hutton and Miss Galindo mourn him and regret the senseless waste of life... but wait, he still breaths! It's effective because children do die in this series.
End of an Age: Chronicled the end of the agricultural age in England and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, as symbolised by the railroad.
Sophy Hutton is pretty, fair-haired and pale-skinned, and is very helpful to her widowed father. She's always very lady-like and an in-universe Lust Object for Doctor Harrison.
Miss Matty used to be a gentle English Rose when she was young. She was very pretty and people say her most striking feature was her complexion. She was very devoted to her family and actually never married because her family needed her support.
Fashions Never Change: Notably averted. The older ladies (Miss Matty, Miss Pole, Mrs Forrester, etc.) wear dresses from the early 1830s, though the series is set in the 1840s. Mrs Jamieson, with her aristocratic pretensions, is much more fashion-forward, as are the younger women (Sophy, Mary). Meanwhile, Erminia, who has come from finishing school in Brussels, is wearing a clothing style (the skirt and jacket, as opposed to dress) that would not be seen in England for another year or two.
Flower Motifs: In episode 2, Jessie Brown receives a bouquet of anemones from Major Gordon, whose proposal of marriage she had to turn down years ago in order to care for her ill sister. In the Victorian language of flowers, anemones mean "love ever steadfast." Well played, Major Gordon. Very well played, indeed. He wins her in the end.
Friend to All Children: Miss Matty says she has been always very fond of little children, and we see her entertaining a bunch of them at Lady Ludlow's garden party. She has a repetitive dream about a little girl who goes to her to hug her. When her servant and friend Martha has a baby girl Tilly, Miss Matty couldn't be happier.
Sophy Hutton has blond curly hair and she's very good-hearted, taking care of her younger siblings after they lost their mother. Always caring and devoted, Sophy is the Victorian ideal of "the angel in the house".
Peggy Bell is always nice to her overbearing family, and steady in supporting the love of her life.
Meek, kindhearted Miss Matty is an older example; she was this in her youth, and still retains the personality — and the hair.
The Heart: Miss Matty, the mainstay and touchstone of the entire programme. Her goodness and indomitable spirit keep Cranford from falling apart time after time.
Lady Ludlow cares deeply for the welfare of her employees, and is reluctant to sell even a small portion of her estate to the railway.
In the first episode Deborah Jenkyns comes across as prim and convention-obsessed to the point of coldness. But when the sister of her neighbour, Jessie Brown, dies, and their father (who would normally represent the family at the funeral) is away, Miss Jenkyns defies convention by attending the funeral to support Miss Brown's decision to be the chief mourner.
Ill Girl: Younger Miss Brown. We don't see much of her, and she dies in the first episode. Her sister Jessie says she knew it would come, but she's breaking her heart.
Impoverished Patrician: Miss Galindo is a Baronet's daughter, still on friendly terms with Lady Ludlow and Sir Charles Maulver. She had to start a business to support herself and Lady Ludlow helped her at the beginnings. She's a milliner, but it's revealed that she's not too keen on it; however, it's one of the few businesses suitable for a lady.
Let's Duet: Jessie Brown and Major Gordon. Their song is "On the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond", and it comes back in utterly heartwarming fashion in the fifth episode. Jessie plays the spinet and sings, and Major Gordon is said to be a capital baritone.
Like Brother and Sister: William Buxton and his father's ward Erminia, with whom his father ships him. They're very close, as they grew up together, but very much not interested in each other that way. Summed up in this immortal exchange:
William: You don't want to marry me, do you, Erminia?
Mood Whiplash: Each episode is often so full of reversals, twists, and emotional upheaval that it can be quite exhausting to watch. Fortunately, it does these well, without ever devolving into a melodramatic mess.
Doctor Harrison, in-universe and among the viewership. He's very attractive, but the fanservice is downplayed. He has one getting dressed scene when he overslept and was hurrying to get to the Sunday mass.
In the second series, William Buxton. He has at least one loose shirt scene, and he's played by perennial fangirl bait Tom Hiddleston.
Oblivious to Love: The extent to which Doctor Harrison can't seem to take the hint from poor Caroline Tomkinson is almost amusing. Until it all blows up in his face.
Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Mary Smith's embarrassing and match-making step-mother tries to invoke this trope and forces Mary to have a boat date with Dr. Harrison at Lady Ludlow's garden party. Mary doesn't want to get married and knows that Dr. Harrison likes Sophy Hutton. However, as Mary is his favoured surgical assistant, they're on very friendly terms and have a pleasant conversation about Sophy and Cranford.
Old Maid: Several of the Cranford ladies are unmarried older women.
Parental Favoritism: Widow Bell obviously favors the selfish Edward over the sweet and virtuous Peggy. In fact, Peggy is constantly criticized and is expected to serve Edward hand and foot.
Pietà Plagiarism: When little Walter dies, Sophy sits on his bed and cradles him.
Promotion to Parent: Upon her mother's death, Sophy was left to raise her three younger siblings while still a child herself.
Proper Lady: Peggy Bell is feminine and extremely patient with her overbearing family. She is delicate yet strong, and William is lucky to have her love.
Puppy-Dog Eyes: Miss Matty. And given what the poor woman goes through... well, there's a reason viewers spend so much time wanting to hug her.
Put on a Bus: At least four major characters do not return for the sequel:
Major Gordon has presumably returned to India, with Jessie Brown as his wife.
Doctor Harrison has moved out of town with his wife Sophy (née Hutton).
Rousseau Was Right: While no character in the cast is free from flaws, all are trying to do what they honestly believe is right and best. The sole exceptions are Lady Ludlow's wastrel son Septimus and Peggy Bell's no-good gambling brother. Both are only concerned with their own selfish ends...and know it.
Ship Tease: There are some subtle hints of possible relationship between the very lively Doctor Marshland and Mary Smith. They understand each other and both are intelligent, handsome people but nothing comes of it.
Mr Buxton ships William Buxton and Erminia Whyte — both of whom put a firm stop to that immediately.
Shout-Out: Young Harry reads everything once he learns to read, and he especially likes Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.
Spirited Young Lady: Erminia. She's very opinionated and outspoken. Don't you try to dictate her what to do or who to marry. She also says men expect women to pretend they are weak to make them feel strong.
Miss Matty and Thomas Holbrook. Nothing ever went right for them.
Depending on how the subtext is read, Laurentia Galindo and Edmund Carter.
Theme Tune Cameo: The music for the waltz at the end of Return to Cranford is the Instrumental Theme Tune of the series, albeit in 3/4 time (the original was in 4/4). It's appropriately called "Cranford Waltz".