Cranford TV Drama or the Book?

Last night I watched the first episode of the BBC’s dramatisation of Cranford. I liked it. Last week I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford. I loved it. They are two different things. If you haven’t read the book Cranford, don’t think that the BBC’s version is the same – it isn’t. Someone once said to me ‘Do you have to be so precise?’ Well, yes I do. It’s important to me to be accurate, to get the facts right; opinions and interpretations are different. I should have known better than to expect the drama and the book to be the same. After all, I’ve been disappointed by most televised or film versions of books when I’ve read the book first. In this case the cast with so many well known actors is a very strong point in favour of the programme. I enjoyed all their performances, although at one point it did feel a bit like spot the stars.

As I watched Cranford I kept thinking that’s not in the book, but that is in the book. The dramatisation is not pure, unadulterated Cranford – it’s an amalgamation of three books – Cranford, Mr Harrison’s Confessions and My Lady Ludlow. I haven’t read either of the other two books, but from a quick look on Amazon I see that Mr Harrison’s Confessions, is indeed about a young doctor who is invited by his father’s cousin to join his country practice but it is in Duncombe, not Cranford. My Lady Ludlow appears not to be connected to Cranford either. So my picky mind says this is not Cranford, but I can see that to enjoy the dramatisation on its own merits I need to stop myself from thinking, ‘yes that’s in the book’ or ‘no I don’t know that, it must be in one of the other books’.

Cranford (the book) is a beautifully written and amusing story, centred on the lives of Miss Deborah Jenkyns and her sister Matilda, known affectionately to everyone except her sister, as Miss Matty. I was interested to read in the introduction to my copy that:

‘Most of Cranford is founded on fact – the hairless cow that went to pasture in a grey flannel jacket, the fashion displays in the little draper’s shop – all the rules of etiquette of the Cranford ladies were part of her [Elizabeth Gaskell’s] early life, and the skill and delicacy with which she draws upon her memories to build up her story proves how deeply rooted was her love for the old town and for its inhabitants who believed in the old order of things and hated change.’

Elizabeth Gaskell portrays life in Cranford and its inhabitants sympathetically and whimsically, without making fun of the characters. It made me chuckle as I read it and this came over in the TV drama – D said to me he hadn’t realised it was a meant to be a comedy. The sight of the ladies trotting along side the sedan chair was very funny.

Elizabeth Gaskell was a friend of Charles Dickens, so I found the episode where Captain Brown and Miss Jenkyns have a ‘literary dispute‘ over the relative merits of Dr Johnson and Mr Boz to be amusing. Captain Brown sings the praises of The Pickwick Papers, whereas Miss Jenkyns asserts that she does not think ‘they are by any means equal to Dr Johnson. Still perhaps the author is young. Let him persevere, and who knows what he may become if he will take the great doctor for his model.’

Cranford is a quiet tale of everyday events. Some of the characters have to overcome disappointments – bankruptcy looms and matrimonial hopes fail to materialise for some, but overall it’s a story of friendship, peace and kindliness. The last sentence in the book sums it up for me: ‘We all love Miss Matty, and I somehow think we are all of us better when she is near us.’ Dame Judi Dench is an absolute joy as Miss Matty.

11 thoughts on “Cranford TV Drama or the Book?

  1. Hi, it did say in the radio times that this was a combination of the three books. Having said that, when you read a novel you intensly like, in a way, you make your own film in your mind. You ‘see’ the characters. Now, someone else reads the same novel and also makes the film in her or his mind. If that is the script writer, she or he shall write the characters as she or he saw them. Usually, not always, a huge disappointment for those who read the novel. It’s not their film. It’s not how they saw the charcters. However it is the way the script writer saw the characters. I wrote a script in English based on a Dutch novel (not yet accepted). The names are changed, the cast is smaller, they live somewhere else, their occupation is different, but the story more or less is the same, but anyone who would have read the novel would be outraged.


  2. Hi Middle D. I see I didn’t make my views clear. I liked the dramatisation. I was not hugely disappointed or outraged. The characters are in fact very much as I imagined them – particularly Miss Matty and Miss Jenkyns.The point I was trying to make is that a drama performance and a book are two different things and can be enjoyed in different ways.


  3. Oh I meant to watch this but the boys hog the tv and I never know what’s on when. Perhaps I’d do better to just read the book instead! (Or maybe that first part will get repeated.)


  4. I recorded Sunday’s episode but haven’t yet seen it and am now beginning to wonder if I will bother another friend having sent me a cutting this morning basically saying the same thing. As I’m teaching ‘Cranford’ next year maybe I’d better stick with the book.


  5. Litlove and Ann I’d always say read the book. I often find a dramatisation less satisfying, but in this case I did enjoy it. If I watch a film first before reading a book, I don’t have the same problem, although I can get a bit muddled if the book is very different. With Cranford, as I’ve read it so recently it was easy to pick out the “foreign” parts.


  6. I always want to read the book first. It can sometimes be quite annoying to me when the televised version doesn’t follow the book precisely. However, as long as it is done well, I guess I shouldn’t mind. I haven’t read Cranford but would like to. I read Mary Barton a while back and really liked it.


  7. I’d love to read Cranford soon! It’s one of the books I’ve been meaning to get around to for a long time (who knows when I will though …). I’m not sure if I’ll have access to the movie version, but it looks like fun to check out (if I don’t expect perfect accuracy, of course).


  8. This one is also on my list of books to read soon. I recently found a used copy. It’s too bad the adaptation is not the same as the book–that sometimes will annoy me. Hopefully it is at least well made.


  9. I must say I really enjoyed the first episode on Sunday night. Of course, I had no idea it was so different to the book (or books) as I’ve yet to read it. Hopefully I’ll get around to that next year and be able to make comparisons. Meanwhile I’m enthralled with what I’ve seen so far, my favourite performance being that of Eileen Atkins as Deborah. Everyone was excellent though.


  10. Have never read the books but now I’ll be straight down to the library! However, as beautiful as the BBC version is, I was disappointed to see the premature exit of that wonderful actress Eileen Atkins, and fear that Cranford will now become the Judi Dench show with supporting cast, and love her or loathe her, isn’t she just in everything?


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