I normally hate movie renditions of books that change the story, but I found myself captivated by Masterpiece Classics version of Cranford that concluded on Sunday evening. I confess, before watching the first part of Cranford, I had never heard of the book of the same name by Elizabeth Gaskell. But after watching part two of this Masterpiece production, I knew I had to read it.
So I did. Before part three debuted across the airwaves.
It’s a short book, written as a series of vignettes of small town life in 19th century England. It is a lovely work of characterization, where one knows the people one is reading about. They come to be friends. But there is no overarching “plot.”
The screenwriters of Cranford decided to add a plot framework around which to structure this movie about a year in the life of a small town. And they did it superbly. The new characters and story lines fit in as if they’d been there all the time. And even while adding new elements to the story, the writers maintained the charm of the original characters and included most, if not all, of the heartwarming elements of the book, even if in slightly different forms.
Of course part of the success of the film version, in my mind, was the absolutely superior ensemble of cast members, led by such names as Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Greg Wise, and so many more. While the names may not be familiar, I assure you that any fan of classic British literature will recognize faces from productions of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Miss Marple movies, and so many other BBC and Hollywood films.
In the end, Miss Matty Jenkyns has become one of my most favorite characters in literature; through she will remain eternally intertwined with Dame Judi Dench in my mind. I heartily recommend both book and movie—just don’t expect one to follow the other in exact measure. Enjoy them each for their own uniqueness.