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DVD Review: Return to Cranford

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In 2007, auduiences were charmed by Cranford, a BBC miniseries based on the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell that focus on a small Victorian village where the citizens (mostly women) are quite set in their ways and resistant to any major change. The series was a tremendous success and inspired a follow-up series, Return to Cranford which just aired in the United States on PBS and is now available on DVD.

Return to Cranford picks up the story from where Cranford left off and features nearly all of the characters remaining from the previous series. The village still resists the forces of change personified in the railroad which is under construction nearby. Plans to bring the railroad into Cranford are being formulated but the five principal ladies of the town (Miss Mattie Jenkins played by Judi Dench, Miss Octavia Pole played by Imelda Staunton, Miss Tomkinson played by Deborah Findlay, Miss Forrester played by Julia MacKenzie, and Mrs. Jamieson played by Barbara Flynn) are very resistant to the idea.

There are other changes as well. Mr Buxton (Jonathan Pryce) returns to the village with his son William (Tom Hiddleston) and his ward Eminia Whyte (Michelle Dockery). While Mr. Buxton seems more respectful of Cranford's traditions both William and Eminia are more idealistic and willing to embrace change. William also falls in love with Peggy Bell (Jodie Whitaker), a young woman from a family far below his own station. The resulting romance provides a further source of conflict between William and his father.

A scene from Return to Cranford starring Judi Dench and Jonathan Pryce.

But the true main character of the story is more that town of Cranford than one particular individual. Events unfolding in the town have ripple effects across many of the characters' lives. But when tragedy strikes it is how the town responds and pulls together that is really the high point of the story.

As it has so many times before, the BBC has again proven its mastery of the period drama. Great care was taken in the production of this film to provide continuity from the first story. Attention to detail was tremendous and this is revealed quite clearly in the bonus feature "Cranford in Detail". No small accomplishment was retaining the principal cast from the original film (16 actors in all) as well as the original production team.

After watching the film the first time I went back and watched both Cranford and Return to Cranford together. I was thoroughly impressed by how well the production team had captured the feel of the first film in the second. Although the second film is not quite as good as the first (and this is almost always the case with a sequel) it is still very good and worth watching again and again.

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