Adapted from three novels by Elizabeth Gaskell (Wives & Daughters, North & South), this beautiful miniseries, written by Heidi Thomas, is one of my favorite guilty pleasure BBC costume dramas. Partly because of its willingness to go places some period dramas do not. While I cannot say it surpasses the exquisite North & South, it’s definitely quality programming.  

Cranford and Return to Cranford Masterpiece TV Miniseries Reviews

The story follows the residents of the small English village of Cranford that is primarily full of ladies of a certain age. Chief among them is the rigid, stickler of rules, Deborah Jenkyns (Eileen Atkins) and her younger, kinder sister Matty (Judi Dench). Into their small town comes widower Captain Brown (Jim Carter) and his unmarried daughters, including Jessie (Julie Sawalha), who breaks her own heart in pursuit of family coming first. This arrival – along with two others, stirs the ladies into a tizzy including the opinionated Miss Poole (Imelda Staunton) and fellow cohorts, the Tomkinson sisters (Deborah Findlay, Selina Griffiths), who live for nothing if not the opportunity to gossip in their parlors.

‘CRANFORD’ AND ‘RETURN TO CRANFORD’ TV REVIEW. Reviewing the charming Elizabeth Gaskell series with an all-star British cast. All text is © Rissi JC
Before taking on the Lady Mary role, see Michelle Dockery in ‘Cranford’ and ‘Return to Cranford’ Click To Tweet

Coinciding with this is the arrival of – the new, young and attractive, Dr. Harrison (Simon Woods), who makes a splash with all of the younger ladies in town while having to gain the trust of the women who trusts their health to Dr. Morgan (John Bowe) for years. Also new in Cranford is Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon), a young woman acquainted with the Jenkyn sisters and wishing to escape her stepmother’s attempts to marry her off, the ambitious Mary begs a quiet haven in Cranford.  

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There is something elegant and mesmerizing to be found among the costume drama world. All of the “little things” superstitiously come together to create a kind of magic Hollywood rarely captures. Each frame of this production offers its viewer something new. I started re-watching this quite a while back and just recently finished it, despite the repetitiveness (who among us hasn’t blogged or read about this?), I couldn’t let the chance to gush about it pass me by – greatness should be documented, readers.  

Since most of us have indeed been introduced to the lovely occupants of this charming village, I thought I’d share a few of my observations and favorite things about this series – everything from the joy of familiar faces before they were anyone to the costuming, here are some *ahem* rambles. Oh and also to avoid confusion, this miniseries is actually told in two separate series, the first is merely called Cranford the second and follow-up sequel is Return to Cranford. I will be referencing both below.

‘CRANFORD’ AND ‘RETURN TO CRANFORD’ TV REVIEW. Reviewing the charming Elizabeth Gaskell series with an all-star British cast. All text is © Rissi JC
Before he's #Loki, see Tom Hiddleston appears in this Masterpiece Theatre production. ‘Cranford’ and ‘Return to Cranford’ Click To Tweet

Firstly, and most importantly to most of the avid fangirls we have Tom Hiddleston. I can admit, the fangirl moments make sense now. Honestly because I always root for the good guys, I never fell for this actor as Loki (Thor). But this (William) character is one I do approve of. I enjoy seeing the kind spectrum of his character and the tender way he treats a character that desperately needs kindness in her life. Then, also in Return to Cranford, Michelle Dockery stars in part of this and oh my goodness! Throughout each of her scenes, I kept thinking, “that is SO Lady Mary-like!” Michelle portrayed Lady Mary Crawley before she was Lady Mary. (I know that doesn’t make sense, but… just go with it.)  

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‘CRANFORD’ AND ‘RETURN TO CRANFORD’ TV REVIEW. Reviewing the charming Elizabeth Gaskell series with an all-star British cast. All text is © Rissi JC

Beyond the acting and fabulous array of talent (of which there is a lot), the stories are memorable. I’m not sure saying this series isn’t for the “faint of heart” fits. But it really isn’t for anyone who wants an Austen-esque costume drama… and that’s something I love best. It’s not afraid to be “daring” and emotional in one fell swoop. The series makes me cry more than I’m comfortable with and it reminds us that life is fragile among many other beautiful lessons. Along with this comes the warning not to get too attached to certain of the characters – some don’t manage to make it through each story. In spite of that, it’s the characters that pull us into the stories. Even when they’re breaking our heart, these characters are beautiful. Their hearts, their sense of morality, their compassion… just everything about them sparkles. The actors reflect the joy, sorrow, horror and disappointment their respective characters are meant to feel and the finished product is a thing of beauty.  

If you’ve yet to meet the residents of Cranford, get a hold of an episode to try. It will break your heart, make you smile (sometimes through the tears) and laugh-out-loud, and inspire you to look at the bands of friendship through fresh eyes. The ending (Return to Cranford) couldn’t be better, even though this one of those productions I don’t like see draw to a close. Everything about this series is breathtaking – and in some instances ahead of its era.  

What about all of you? Have you seen Cranford? If so, what did you think of it; favorite moments, characters or things. Share anything below. The comments are yours.

About Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.


    1. Really?? That's awesome, Emma. You know, I don't know that I even made the connection at the time Thor made its debut. I probably didn't even know Tom was in Return to Cranford until I started seeing all the fangirl comments; then I had to check his credits. :)

  1. I've never watched Cranford, but one of my friends told me it was good, so now hearing it from you as well I'll have to look it up on Amazon!
    Great review!

    1. Yes, yes, yes, Kara! Do. It's a delightful series that someone still wins you over even when it's breaking your heart. Hope you enjoy – because there is a LOT to love about the series. :)

  2. I love Cranford, too! The storyline of the train and how that affects everyone's lives in Cranford is amazing! Always love a good period piece and this one is so well done. You are so right to say there is joy and sorrow… The loss of various characters was heart wrenching, but there are many joyous moments, too… Including The promise of new love and the cow!

    For anyone who loves period dramas, I would say this is one not to miss! There is romance, greed, gossip, tragedies, and triumphs!

    Thank you, Rissi, for taking us on this trip back to Cranford!

    (By the way, I saw a commercial on PBS that The Paradise would be returning soon!)

    1. Exactly, Net! I particularly noted in this viewing how the railway storyline carried through the entire series (both the original and the sequel) and I liked that because it allowed for many of the same issues to be dealt with, yet nothing ever becomes boring in my opinion.

      Well said – I love this series even when it's breaking my heart, though yes, there are equal (if not more) joyful moments that make up for it – and ha! That cow plot is hilarious, before – somehow, Heidi Thomas manages to make even it poignant in the very end.

      Thank you for summing up this series so well! Cranford has all that you mention. :)

  3. This is one of my all-time favorite period dramas. I just love all of the characters and feel like they're old friends. I think the first time I saw it- when I didn't know any of the plots twists or character deaths beforehand- was probably one of the first times I got really, truly emotionally invested in a show :D

    1. This series will do that to you, Hayden! It will pull you in until you are fully invested – believe me, I totally realized that in this recent rewatch. Yet, it's all worth it. And I like how you say this makes you feel as if the characters are old friends, that is spot-on! Well said. :)

    1. Me too, Maria! And, oh my, yes. The end to it all is beautiful and perfect and sweet even though we probably would have liked the stories to go on. Heidi does a nice job helping to made everything complete. :)

  4. I feel like I need to go back and rewatch these. I loved this series and do remember it pulling at my heartstrings, but I don't remember all the characters/actors! I do remember Tom though. ;-) Surprise, surprise. I think Gaskell's stories are on par with Austen's and I'm so glad to have found them as well as these great TV adaptations!

    1. Somehow I knew you'd remember Tom, Renee. ;) I didn't realize the connection early on, but it's fun to see "Loki" in a good guy role. So cute.

      Gaskell's stories are indeed on part with Austen if not more so. She has a beautiful way to telling a story (or via the adaptations she does) and I though I have favorites (as I do with Austen), I've loved each of her book-to-movie miniseries. Happy rewatching, Renee!

      Glad you stopped by. :)

  5. I absolutely love Cranford. (I love Return to Cranford, too, but I think I love the first one the most.) I'm pretty sure it was the first BBC mini series I ever watched, so it will always be special to me. I don't know how they managed to find the perfect balance between humor and heartbreak, but they definitely did. :) I love all of the ladies in the town. Matty is so sweet and likable, but for laughs there's no one better than Miss Poole! She always makes me smile with her ridiculousness. Every time we have peas with a meal I can't help but think about that scene when she couldn't get over how vulgar it was that Matty's old sweetheart ate peas from his knife, ha.

    1. *High five* I love this miniseries as well. Not sure I like one or the other better though to be honest, I just enjoy them both albeit for different reasons. Heidi Thomas has to be a brilliant writer! Many of her period films are among my favorites and yes, she meshes the humor and sorrow beautifully; its the weakness that makes the miniseries so… perfect. :)

      Miss Poole is fantastic. One of my favorites – and lol! I love that comment about the peas; that scene is unforgettable. :)

  6. Great review! I just finished watching Return From Cranford, and I love the way the series captures the atmosphere of a small town. It's all there, the sense of community, the eccentric characters, the little happenings that fuel gossip, all of it. Gaskell did a fabulous job writing the books, and I think BBC did a wonderful adaptation!

    1. Hi, Candice! Always nice to have you stop by. :)

      Well said. That small town feeling is pretty great – the production does put that on display beautifully and like you, I agree; I love how the "community" is depicted. Even when the stories break our heart, there is that common, strong support that never great.

      BBC is awesome. I hope they don't stop bring these productions to us anytime soon. :)

  7. Good review, Rissi! Cranford is one of my favorites to re and re-watch. It's just so wonderful! :D I don't like Return quite as much, I think mostly because I just love the way the original is wrapped up so well, but then Hiddleston makes up for most of that! :D

    1. LOL, I don't blame you for feeling like Tom's character makes up for anything you felt lagged in 'Return.' His character is awesome and I enjoyed seeing a completely different side of him in this rewatch where I wouldn't have in my first viewing. :)

      Thanks for visiting, Sarah! Always nice to hear from you.

  8. LOVE this series! I liked Return to Cranford slightly more than Cranford, but that's the romantic in me. :) I need to actually get physical copies. I did record them both off of tv and then burned them but it's not quite the same as having the videos.

    Can you tell I'm playing catch-up on your blog??? Off to more of your posts. You'll be hearing from me a lot today. ;)

    1. I liked both series SO well, Tressa and I agree, the sequel does have more of the romance factor, but I did enjoy Jessie's romance in the first movie, so… Oo! And I forgot about Sophie and the young doctor too. So cute. :)

      These are most definitely worth buying. Hope you can get them someday – Christmas list!? ;)

      You're welcome to play catch up anytime; always glad to have you visit and I'm enjoying ALL of your comment. Thanks! :)

  9. Aaaahhh, two of my most favorite period dramas!! SO so good. I remember hearing about the first one and for some reason I just didn't think it would be something I'd like (Crazy me!). But then I think I may have read a review or something that made me realize I'd better try it after all and am I ever glad I did. The characters are what make this awesome. I know I tend to always say that, but it's really true! Every single character in both shows has their flaws, their uniqueness, their sweetness, and on and on. In other words, they feel like characters you want to know in real life. In fact, that'd be amazing, if they were real. If only. How do you not fall in love with every one of them?! Even the snooty ones. ;)

    I admit that this was my first introduction to Tom Hiddleston AND Michelle Dockery. So I loved them both in this and then when I was introduced to them in other things (especially Michelle as Mary), my view was colored by how much I loved them here. Tom's character especially. William is so wonderful and I loved he and Peggy's sweetness. They are simply too adorable! I confess that I usually rewatch the scene at the evening party where they're talking alone multiple times in a row, every, single, time that I watch this drama. My heart just melts at that moment! The way he stares at her. *swoon* ;)

    But I love Simon Woods (I think?) from the first one too! He and Sophie(?) are so adorable. (It's been too long since I watched it! My memory is blanking out on names! For shame, Kara.) His determination to win her is too cute.

    But the Amazons, the ladies of the town, they are the heart and soul of both stories. For all the cuteness there is, these series would not be quite so amazing without their silliness and quirks and all-around awesomeness!

    Okay. Now I REALLY have to go home and rewatch this. Tonight! :)

    1. You aren't alone in thinking this one wasn't for you. My friend Charity (our Femnista editor) wasn't all that interested at the time either, but I think she's a fan now. This show IS definitely true to and about the characters. I love all of the primary characters SO much – and this is one series that made me cry in this rewatch. Ugh. How does it do that?! ;)

      What was funny was this was the first time I'd seen these since the DA/Loki respective roles and watching Michelle, I was all like, "she was Lady Mary before she was Mary!" She's just got that "snooty" attitude down even though I do love Lady Mary. Tom is definitely awesome in this series too – I like this version so much more that Loki. ;) As for he and Peggy… aww!

      You are so right! Dr. Harrison and Sophie are indeed the cuties from the first series.

      Well said, Kara. Well said. And yes, do watch this one again. Love it always. :)

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