The only thing I’ve ever read about Mrs Gaskell is the involving biography by Jenny Uglow. I’ve never read any of her work, and just wasn’t in the mood for Wives and Daughters when that aired last year. But Cranford won me over last night. Sure some of it is a bit beyond belief (could a cat REALLY swallow that amount of lace???), but the idea of a village with such a force of women – from gossipy to trendsetting – well, what female viewer wouldn’t consider the hours spent watching them hours well-spent indeed.
One reason I got involved in JASNA was that research into diaries (the earliest is 1814) of Mary Gosling brought up the fact that her brother-in-law was Jane’s nephew, James-Edward Austen-Leigh (he married Emma Smith, Mary’s sister-in-law, in 1828). But Mary lived until July 1842 — exactly the period of last night’s episode of Cranford (it began in June 1842 and ended in August 1842). Being able to picture a young Mary (she was born in 1800) in the fashions of Pride and Prejudice or Emma and later in the early-Victorian era fashions of Cranford really gets the brain juices flowing. 25 yards to make a dress! the different materials (and their differing prices…) for bonnets! the excessive darkness – yet still the needlewoman plies her needle! All of these items have to be thought of when one contemplates recreating the life of someone who lived 200 years ago.
Ms. Place IDs the gorgeous village used in filming: ‘the British Heritage village of Laycock’. I must say this village adds tremendously to the atmosphere of this production.
And the scenes really place you in the 1840s. In the Jenkyns household, the wide hearth of the era and the image of Mary reading by the light of the fire. The unrelenting darkness of interiors; the pools of light; the lonely lady of the manor; the lovelorn dutiful daughter/sister; the poor women who produced child after child; the servants who looked after the wealthier inhabitants; and you gotta love those poor (sedan) chairmen!
Mary Gosling lived in an era of change: from the horse-and-carriage to the age of steam trains; from war abroad to unrest at home. And Cranford well illustrates what life at such times of change could mean to people of a small village. I really feel for the still-in-the-18th-century patroness. Again, the strength of this program is in its wealth of women portrayed. And very hard not to think of Cassandra and Jane (had Jane lived to an older age) when watching the two Misses Jenkyns. When Miss Deborah died, my heart went out to Miss Matilda. I have no sister and cannot imagine what it must be like to live for one another, only to end up being the sister death left behind.
As an Austen-side note: nice to see Austen ‘veterans’ Greg Wise and Julia Sawalha. And it’s always a pleasure to see Julia MacKenzie and Barbara Flynn. Francesca Annis, Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins (a well-deserved BAFTA win) have long been favorites.
Ms. Place – who has read the book! – says the script remains kind of close to the original. All I can say about the production is, notice what a leisurely pace will do for a storyline; ditto some excellent casting (is there even one weak link in this production?). High standards DO pay off. I will say, I wish the “background” music was a little less intrusive at times. Overall, though, a lovingly-crafted adaptation.
BTW: 1905 saw the publication of CRANFORD: A PLAY by Marguerite Marington; see books.google. And don’t forget to check out Deb’s post on Gaskell, below. I clicked on the Cranford (novel) link Deb provided and read the first chapter; interesting to now have images in the mind, thanks to the teleplay, of the lives of Miss Jenkyns, Miss Jessie Brown, Captain Brown, et al. Reading this one chapter really makes plain how a series of scenarios can be crafted into a well-rounded script with some fidelity to the original.
UPDATE: In part 2, scenes were filmed at TRING PARK (in Hertfordshire), which has an Austen connection: it was the bridal home of Edward and Emma Austen, and their first few children were born there. When Edward’s aunt died and he assumed the Austen-Leigh name, he moved his family into his aunt’s former home, Scarlets. BUT: before Scarlets, before Speen, they lived with Emma’s mother Mrs Smith at Tring, the former home of her uncle, Sir Drummond Smith, Bart. Therefore, where Judi Dench trod, so in the past did Mary Gosling (Lady Smith), Emma & Edward Austen, his mother Mrs James Austen, and his sister Caroline. Small world sometimes…