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 among 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.
Bechdel Test: Passes with flying colours — and in the first five minutes, as the first episode opens with Miss Matty and her sister Deborah discussing their impending houseguest Miss Mary Smith while frantically making beds and removing dust covers. In fact, the primary focus of the programme is on the women of Cranford and their relationships with each other.
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.
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.
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.
The Honourable Mrs Jamieson, who is carted about in a sedan chair and is terribly condescending to the ladies of Cranford who are not as well-endowed as she.
Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Sophy Hutton, then Peggy Bell. Miss Matty is an older example; she was this in her youth, and still retains the personality (and the hair) by the time the story takes place.
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.
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.
In the second series, William Buxton.
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, they're on friendly terms and have a pleasant conversation about Sophy and Cranford.
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.
Pietŕ 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.
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.
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.