Beyond the Pale


Cranford, BBC1 Christmas Special
December 27, 2009, 8:33 pm
Filed under: BBC, Costume Dramas, Cosy, Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell

Last year, I would have to say that my two favourite TV shows were, undoubtedly, Cranford and The Wire.

Obviously they inhabit somewhat different ends of the spectrum of TV drama, being slightly different in their content; but a good indicator of the two extremes of my taste, perhaps!

Only one of these brilliant series saw fit to have a reprise in the form of a misty-eyed Christmas Special on BBC1 this year. Can you guess which? ;p

Funnily enough, The Guardian newspaper did an online poll to see which of these shows people would rather watch, and The Wire won by a startling 79.1%. However, one of the stars of The Wire did admit to liking a bit of the ol’ costume drama, himself:

Dominic West said, ‘No one does costume drama like the BBC … I thought Cranford was incredible, but we don’t seem to be able to do contemporary stuff.’

Which I think is a perfectly acceptable point to make. The BBC are apparently going to be cutting down on costume dramas, to make way for gritty, urban or modern TV programmes. I have to say I think they’ll be shooting themselves in the foot. Where else can we go for a cosy refuge from dreadfulness?

The British are, generally (before anyone shoots me!) bloody awful at anything “gritty”, “urban” or even “modern”. They always seem to come across as creaking, tin-pot parodies of Eastenders written [and sometimes acted] by deeply emotional Sixth Form drama groups who are Trying to Make a Point. Embarrassing for all concerned.

No, far better to don the bonnets, I say, and do what they’re best at. Of course try new things and experiment – they may even get good at it when they can employ decent scriptwriters – but don’t lop off all the roses whilst they continue to bloom!

Based on the books by Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford manages to be extremely moving (more than one of my female companions admits to having quite a sob-fest whilst watching) with genuinely funny moments of high comedy and slapstick action, mixed in with social commentary and a document of how the railways came to hasten The Future, much to the horror/delight of local inhabitants.

Of course it has a stellar cast, with Dame Judi Dench reprising her role as the much-loved Miss Matty Jenkyns, and heading a roll-call Britain’s top film, television and stage talent, with Cranford newcomers: Jonathan Pryce, Celia Imrie, Lesley Sharp, Nicholas Le Prevost, Jodie Whittaker, Tom Hiddleston, Michelle Dockery, Matthew McNulty, Rory Kinnear and Tim Curry.

This second outing to Cranford hasn’t been as moving or engaging as the first – but they are unfair comparisons to begin with, the first being a whole series and this being a two-part special which is more in the way of a special treat for the original fans and perhaps a way to gather some new to the comfy, welcoming bosom of Cranford.

It’s a warm bath of a show. It’s nice cup of tea and a biscuit. It isn’t cutting edge and it’s hardly going to rock any boats or break any boundaries, but that’s okay, BBC programme makers. Stop sweating about being Gritty. It’s really alright. You’re allowed to be brilliant at Nice.

Of course, there will be a themed collection of items to follow shortly… but now I am off to change into my PJ’s, put my cranberry coloured fluffy bed socks on, make a turkey sandwich (NO I’m not bored of them, so there!) have a nice cup of tea, and watch the second part of Cranford.

Oh yeah, baby.

I am so rock and roll.

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