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Saturday, March 15, 2014

'Cranford' DVD: The Real Housewives of Victorian England

Cranford DVD
BFS Entertainment's DVD release of the original 1972 four-part BBC mini-series "Cranford" demonstrates the wide range of British titles that BFS provides anglophile sofa spuds on this side of the pond.

The scope of BFS titles that Unreal TV has reviewed just in the past few months have included classic Britcoms, British documentaries (and one Daniel Craig docudrama) on the Western Front during WW I (known then as The Great War), the uber-brilliant dramedy "Minder," and a series of BBC reality shows that this site dedicated to "unreal" TV loved.

"Cranford" is based on an 1851 novel of the same name by Elizabeth Gaskell that tells the tales of the titular female-dominated market town. The choice of the leading ladies of this community to follow their personal form of feminist values extends to disdain of most men of the upper classes.

An early victim of this bias is a loud and somewhat boorish gentleman who hits the trifecta of being male, upstaging his female neighbors, and bringing a disliked railroad to the community. Consequently, it is very clear that he is as welcome in Cranford as a tea party leader would be at an Obama rally.

Miss Pole, played by the uber-awesome British sitcom veteran Pat Combs, is the leader of the pack and does a great job keeping her vicious circle in line. Her word effectively is law in this community.

Formidable spinster Deborah Jenkyns does a wonderful job enforcing Pole's law both in the community and her own home; this domination has both her younger sister Matilda "Matty" Jenkyns and visiting former neighbor Mary Smith firmly under her control and forces their maid to sneak her not necessarily suitable suitors into the kitchen in violation of the requirement of her employment that she not socially associate with any men.

Deborah contributes additional humor in the form of her efforts to keep up appearances regarding the reversal of fortune that she and Matilda experience following the death of their father, who is the rector (rather than Vicar) of Cranford. Asserting that burning only one candle prevents eye problems associated with a room being too bright is one of Deborah's best lines.

Other good humor relates to referring to the habits of "the young queen," an amusing tedious and trying tea party, and naivety regarding investments.

Problems that plague the ladies of Cranford during the roughly three hours of this series include the consequences of the regular deaths of characters, the proper manner for interacting with a titled woman who is coming to Cranford, how to respond when the manner of said VIP is other than expected, and the typical Victorian angst regarding ensuring that every interaction with men for every purpose that such interaction is appropriate does not violate any code of etiquette or decency.

These golden girls/designing women must additionally decide whether attending a magic show violates any church teachings, determine how to respond to the tangible and societal results of a serious financial crisis, and contend with a member of their group marrying someone whom the rules of polite society dictate is beneath her.

The epilog related to all this is that Cranford is a highly entertaining period drama that fans of "Downton Abbey,"  chickcoms, and reality shows alike will relish.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Cranford" is invited to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.