Cranford on the small screen

After reading Cranford recently, The Bookworm and I decided to indulge in a DVD binge and we watched the entire BBC Cranford production from 2007 in one day of entranced viewing. Rest assured that we did manage a meal and beverage break in the midst of the nineteenth century. I had already done a little light Googling and so we were aware that the series wasn’t a straightforward adaptation of the novel. Even so, after having read and enjoyed the activities of the Cranford ladies so recently, it was strange to find the Cranford we knew had been turned upon its head. The scriptwriters, for some reason known only to themselves decided to mash Cranford up with a couple of other short novels and a spot of seasoning. I must stress that we did thoroughly enjoy all of the episodes of the drama. However at the same time, it just wasn’t the Cranford life that we’d just been reading about, which was rather vexing.

The television series, for those unfamiliar with its intricacies,  was constructed from plots and characters taken from My Lady Ludlow, Mr Harrison’s Confessions and Cranford. I was intrigued to read (on Wikipedia) that the scriptwriters had also worked themes from a non-fiction work called The Last Generation in England into the drama. Gaskell wrote the latter piece about the town in which she grew up (Knutsford) upon which she later based Cranford. I felt that it therefore made sense for a drama to return to the original source of Gaskell’s inspiration. I wasn’t so convinced by the idea of putting episodes from three entirely unrelated novels into the dramatic blender. If you take a look at the trailer below, you’ll see what I mean about the mixed plot lines and crossed characters.

After having searched around for details of the plots from the other books, I can see where the scriptwriters have fitted them in and where they have shifted the original Cranford plots to accommodate them. It was confusing enough after having read Cranford, but it must have completely baffled anyone doing it the other way around. As far as I can see, the various pieces of fiction are entirely unrelated to one another and I don’t think there’s a character overlap anywhere. The bonus here is that I have now discovered the existence of these novellas so I’m planning to buy them as soon as possible. I was skimming through My Lady Ludlow on the Project Gutenberg but I would rather obtain a printed version, the more to savour Lady Ludlow’s story. However, there is a delicious irony in reading about the traditionally minded lady in such a new-fangled way (and me a common person able to read!)

Part of the way through writing this post, I stopped to watch the DVD’s extra feature on how the series was made. I have to admit that The Bookworm and I are rather fond of the behind the scenes type of extra bits. Call it research, call it plain nosiness, but we like going behind the cameras for a while. The various people involved in the writing and production of the re-imagined Cranford village seemed to be real Elizabeth Gaskell enthusiasts. Given that, I couldn’t see why they would then want to muck about with her text so much. Why was it not possible to adapt a straightforward Cranford? Was it just to go one better than the earlier BBC series? Surely, the other novellas could have been adapted into wonderful television plays. I suspect that it was all about money really, and what would make a better merchandising package, to say nothing about the possibility of the Return to Cranford series.

Since I have now had a bit of a grouse about the re-writing of the novel, it is only fair to remind you that as I said before, we both enjoyed watching the drama. The ensemble cast was a dream and the costumes and settings were marvellous, taking me back to those long-ago Sunday evenings watching the current BBC adaptation. I suppose you just have to separate the programme from its original source material(s).

Don’t be surprised if we succumb to temptation and borrow Return to Cranford from the library!

Credits: YouTube – BBC trailer uploaded by Luthi3n84 on 28 April 2008 – with thanks