Cranford Christmas Extras

Have a very happy Cranford Christmas

WILL Miss Matty find romance in the second of two new Cranford films?

“She deserves a bit of happiness,” I suggested to Dame Judi Dench – the woman who plays her.

“You reckon,” replied Judi, with that trademark twinkle in her eye.

“Well quite. And about bloody time. Poor old Miss Matty.

“She starts to have a really nice time. Wait ‘til Cranford 3,” she laughed.

Regular readers may have read my two features on the Cranford 2009 films:

Cranford: Under the bonnet and not forgetting Cranford Christmas.

Plus previous blogs here.

But there was a large amount of material from interviews with the cast and production team which simply could not be squeezed in.

So for those who want to read on, here are some Cranford extras for Christmas:

Have the production team had any feedback from actors whose characters were killed off in the original serial?

Screenwriter Heidi Thomas: “Eileen’s (Atkins – who played Miss Deborah) had plenty to say.”

Dame Judi Dench as Miss Matty

Co-creator Sue Birtwistle: (Laughing) “Eileen stood up at BAFTA and called Heidi a bitch.”

Heidi Thomas: “She had just won an award and she said something about my writing and said, ‘You bitch, you killed me.’ And then Philip Glenister (who played Mr Carter) got up to get his prize, and he said, ‘You killed me off as well, you cow.’”(laughing)

Filming in Lacock – how did the locals react?

Director Simon Curtis: “By and large they were very supportive. It’s quite a disruption to them because we put all the ground cover down and close streets off and they can’t park. But I think the majority of them are very proud of their village, rightly so, and proud that Cranford celebrates it.

“Various shop signs are taken down and so on. But really they’ve been assiduous in preserving the village, so it’s much less hard to convert it back to 1844 than it would be pretty much anywhere else in the world.”

Sue Birtwistle: “It’s a National Trust village, so there are no television aerials, no phone wires. It’s all buried underground. So there’s very little negative work to do before you do the positive bits, mainly getting rid of the cars. And what we always do is we have a special dispensation that we can use the town as extras while we’re shooting there and so they all want to be in it, of course. And we take as many as we can.”

Co-creator Susie Conklin: “Lacock is so perfect to represent Cranford, that mix of architecture and all the different buildings. You couldn’t find something better if you tried. And also from the perspective, you can actually look down the street, which is so rare. For a small town, that main street is really wide so you can really get things going there and see a lot. It perfectly matches a Cheshire town with all that mix of black and white and little pink whitewashed houses.”

Imelda Staunton as Miss Pole

Renewed interest in Elizabeth Gaskell’s books after the first series?

Sue Birtwistle: “Absolutely. They sold hundreds of thousands of copies and were in the best sellers.”

Susie Conklin: “Some of those stories had been out of print and are now in print.”

Heidi Thomas: “I think if you are a fan of literature, there’s probably a different pleasure to be gained from them (the TV versions), which is spotting your favourite bits and characters and how it comes into the mix. And people seem to have enjoyed that just as much, or if not more, than they would have done if they’d seen a very literal adaptation.”

(Elizabeth Gaskell is to be honoured next September by being included in the stained glass window overlooking Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey)

Deborah Findlay (Miss Tomkinson):

Did you think the Cranford ladies would return to the screen?

Deborah Findlay as Miss Tomkinson

“I thought we weren’t going to see them again. With Barbara Flynn (Mrs Jamieson) many years ago I’d done Wives and Daughters. Barbara and I played the sisters in it. And we got a taste then of the sort of life that is depicted in Cranford and realised the potential of those characters. That’s why I wanted to do it.

“We all had our own clothes. We had exactly the same clothes that we’d had in the first series, even down to mittens.”

Imelda Staunton (Miss Pole): “I think with the first Cranford it was appealing because these women were funny, serious, there was physical comedy, proper gags. You don’t get that often in bonnet dramas do you? Proper gags. I thought that was appealing. It wasn’t lightweight, it wasn’t particularly vulgar or soppy. But it was pretty straight down the line. These were hard women. Miss Deborah was a woman with views and strong opinions and I thought that’s what was good about it. It wasn’t just, ‘Would you like another cup of tea?’ It wasn’t wishy-washy. It was strong and direct and funny and I think that’s why it appealed.”

Filming the train journey scene shown in episode one last Sunday?:

Simon Curtis: “We went to a steam railway near Stoke, right at the beginning of our shoot, to do all the stuff on the platform and big shots of the train moving. But all the interior close-ups were done about a month later on a little set, no bigger than this table it seemed, at Ealing. I spent a whole day saying, ‘It’s bumpy, it’s getting faster…’ It’s scary when you do that because we have a green screen, so outside the window is just green. So you look at the takes and you think it’s never going to work. But it’s amazing how effective it is.”

Imelda Staunton: “It was like a silent movie.”

Simon Curtis: “I like to think of myself as the kind of director who goes to the material and, frankly, Cranford has such a distinct tone and such a distinct flavour, my job is just to capture that and not be fussy. Some directors, I think, try and be noticed and I try not to be noticed. There’s so many faces, so many people to be noticed. Every scene has a wonderful prop or a stunt or an animal. It’s all of that.

Jonathan Pryce as Mr Buxton

“What’s interesting as a director is that you realise that so many things you do are one atmosphere from start to finish. But Cranford is so many different genres. You have to be good at romance, old fashioned drama, comedy, physical stuff. You have to be adept at travelling through all those different things and, of course, the actors do too.”

Do you think the ladies of Cranford could come back for one final, third outing?

Imelda Staunton: “I do think that’s a question for producers and writers. We’re all there just waiting for a script.”

Simon Curtis: “More specifically, it’s a question for the BBC because it’s a very expensive show and it looks like that on screen. The range of the actors and so many locations and sets, that is, in the current climate, in jeopardy at the BBC. So we should cherish what we’ve got. And who knows what lies ahead. It is a co-production with Masterpiece Theatre. But you’d be surprised. The BBC pays for the lion’s share of this show without any shadow of doubt.”

Can you compare Cranford and Lark Rise To Candleford?

Simon Curtis: “They’re totally different shows. Cranford is a special thing because it’s this wonderful blend of Elizabeth Gaskell and Heidi and it’s a new sensibility. I get sensitive when it’s lumped in to yet another adapation of a famous book, because this is a very original piece of work.”

Julia McKenzie (Mrs Forrester):

“It’s easy to say that actors are egocentric. Yes, I suppose we are. It’s easy to say that they’re very envious and there’s a lot of back-biting. I find actors are so supportive of each other, I can’t begin to tell you. When I took over Marple I had letters of support from actresses who could have played the part easily. And this is one of the things in this company. We are all so supportive of each other. And just generally actors are. We’re always portrayed as luvvies.

Julia McKenzie as Mrs Forrester

“And we are a tribe. We know what makes actors tick, why you are an actor. We’re all children. But we are a tribe and know each other. There’s a connection. I’ve worked in Japan with actors who don’t speak a word of English but we knew each other. And that’s a very important thing.”

Heidi Thomas:

The 1803 Victorian child rearing manual she “procured” as part of her research when writing the script?

“I was reading it and I thought, ‘Oh, this is marvellous.’ They’re saying, let your child walk about in its bare feet in the house and don’t put tight clothes on it. I was thinking, ‘This is a lovely way to bring up children.’ And then it said, ‘Should your child misbehave, give it poppy water.’ Which, of course, is opium. So you realise they’re on opium to calm them down.

“And also if your child tries to walk too soon…children were discouraged from walking before the age of 18 months because it would give them bow legs, ‘Put both the legs in one long stocking.’ So I try and pick up all the little things like that and put them in.

“Where they are relevant I think it’s absolutely part of the Gaskellian world, to include those details. And just sometimes we even filmed little tiny bits and pieces that didn’t necessarily find their way in. But I think it’s important to have it there because somebody in the art department might find something that they can really use to anchor themselves with that particular moment. So I love the little detail. But not a lot, because that’s not my job. But it’s important for me to feel secure in the world and then I can just drop in the odd tidbit that helps other people feel the same way.”

Jonathan Pryce (Mr Buxton):

On joining Cranford as a new character:

“I’d enjoyed the first series very much and it was a bit ambivalent about whether I wanted to be in the sequel because they’re often not as good as the first ones. And then I read the script and I thought it was an excellent script, great character, and was very happy to be a part of it.

“It was billed in the rehearsal schedule that we’d have etiquette lessons. And I thought, ‘That’s going to be boring.’ But it was wonderful, actually. That, again, was a bonding experience. The way people were possibly more physically open than they are now, the social interaction was different. When you met people on the street, the men would bow and all that kind of stuff, and keeping a certain distance from each other. That was really interesting to do.

Jodie Whittaker as Peggy Bell

“There are other nostalgic programmes that don’t work quite as well as Cranford worked. And certain things have suffered from over-exposure of period drama. The BBC have just had it recently with Emma, which I think came too soon. I think if they’d waited a bit for another Jane Austen it would have been better.”

Jodie Whittaker (Peggy Bell):

Women at that time?

“It was all to do with etiquette. I think that was a major thing. We had quite a few lessons on etiquette. That’s obviously so different to now – who you bow to, how you bow and who you say hello to and who says it first. And stuff like horse riding, for a girl to ride a horse like a guy was incredibly alien. The etiquette just went out the window. So you did it in the privacy of your land but you’d never enter a town like Cranford because all the gossips would be going like the clappers.

“It’s quite hard because I’m incredibly lazy with my posture, elbows on the table and so on. It helps for the women because it keeps your posture right. You don’t realise how often, as myself, I speak using gestures quite a lot and you just didn’t do that then. Your hands are usually placed on your lap. You’ve got to think outside of yourself.

“The stereotype has absolutely gone out of the window in this. Imelda’s character is so completely different to Judi’s character and everybody has such a stamp on their personality. I think just the diversity of types of women that’s represented in it is lovely. And it’s funny. It has a mix of everything. Sometimes period drama can be the misery of a period or the high society. Whereas this is really in the middle of all that and it takes in all classes as well. You follow stories from everybody’s class.”

Jim Carter (Captain Brown):

The wrap party at the end of filming?

“We had a wrap picnic, actually, with tea and cakes. It was on a sunny Sunday in a field and it was perfect. You’ve heard about cake day, I’m sure, that was a big part of the Cranford experience.”

What was your contribution to cake day?

“Eating. Somebody has got to do the eating. I think Imelda (his real life wife) made a lemon drizzle cake and brownies and I carried them in carefully in my lap and scoffed the lot.”

Jim Carter as Captain Brown

The success of Cranford?

“The different thing about this is that the older actors are absolutely in the centre. It’s not a pretty blonde and a handsome young man at the centre, it’s the older characters and the younger characters are more on the periphery.”

“I stick with the women. I was furious when Jonathan Pryce (Mr Buxton) turned up. These are my babes, get out of it, Captain Brown’s here. Sling your hook. And Judi Dench is not averse to a bit of a laugh, so we did chuckle a lot.

“In the first series we were all in the church and it was an A to Z of Equity. And Judi (Miss Matty) and Eileen (Miss Deborah) were sitting on the row in front of me, giggling like insane schoolgirls. And you thought, ‘What other profession with two women who aren’t going to see a certain age again, at the peak of their profession, are allowed to enjoy themselves so much?’ You wouldn’t be able to do that in the business world. Two women past 60, maybe even higher, would not be at the top of the tree and wouldn’t be allowed to enjoy themselves and be so relaxed as that. That just makes it a great job. It doesn’t happen in other industries, does it?”

Sue Birtwistle: ”I have to say when we’d just finished the last one, it wasn’t uppermost in my mind that we might do another one. We were a bit shattered.”

Could there be yet more Cranford?

“There isn’t much in Cranford itself. But she re-visited… the Matty and Deborah characters are the two aunts, essentially, who brought her up in Knutsford when she was adopted when she was one-year-old when her mother died. And she uses those a lot. And there are other people in this series that we’ve used from other books that she again re-visits. She lost her own brother, he went to India and was never seen again. She’s always writing about lost brothers. She lost her own son, she writes about children dying quite a lot. So there are themes. There certainly could be, with some invention and inter-weaving again. Yes, there could be.”

*The second and concluding Cranford 2009 film is on BBC1 at 9pm this Sunday (December 27).

Cranford: Under the bonnet

Cranford Christmas

Cranford: Imelda Staunton

Cranford Blogs

The Gaskell Society

Follow Ian Wylie on Twitter


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2 responses to “Cranford Christmas Extras

  1. Really interesting post; I always love reading interviews and hearing feedback from production staff. I particularly enjoyed the Eileen quote! Will you be covering Larkrise to Candleford next year?

  2. Thanks Lizzy – sadly, have no interviews to go with the third series of Lark Rise To Candleford, which begins on BBC1 at 8pm on Sunday Jan 10.

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