Cranford (2007): the final two episodes
In the remaining two episodes of Cranford, the women tie themselves in knots as we approach May Day. Miss Matty Jenkyns (Judi Dench) is trying to adjust to life without her dominating sister and is supportive of Martha (Claudie Blakley), her servant, who desires romance with Jem Hearne (Andrew Buchan). Later, Jem receives news that he has an inheritance, the letter containing a five pound note drawn on a Manchester bank. Believing himself in funds, he rushes to the local store to buy Martha a shawl. Unfortunately, the milliner refuses the note, asserting that the Manchester bank is in trouble. Overhearing this, Miss Matty gives him cash. Then her world collapses. The milliner was correct and the bank in which she had invested all her money is declared insolvent. Martha and Jem are distressed because they have benefitted from Miss Matty’s desire to help them and begin devising ways in which they can repay her generosity. The kindly manner Dr Frank Harrison (Simon Woods) shows to everyone is misinterpreted as courtship in the wrong quarters. This torpedoes his love for Sophy Hutton (Kimberley Nixon) when Caroline Tomkinson and Mrs Rose publicly claim they are engaged to him. And Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis) finds herself obliged to mortgage her land to pay for her son’s extravagance in Italy, while blighting Edmund Carter (Philip Glenister), first by sending Harry Gregson (Alex Etel), the poacher’s son, to work in the cow sheds and allocating Miss Galindo (Emma Fielding) to act as his secretary — he may be modern, but not yet modern enough to accept an intelligent woman working with him although, one one occasion, he’s observed smiling at her. Having had an episode focusing on death and the fundamental unfairness of the class-based way of life, we now have a shift to problems of romance when spinsters have nothing better to do with their time than speculate on who should pair off. The only one who comes out of all this with any credit is Miss Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon) who’s a paragon of common sense (although Miss Octavia Poole (Imelda Staunton) does rise to the occasion and buys a silhouette of Mr Holbrook when his effects are auctioned off — this she immediately passes over to Miss Matty, rejecting the offer of reimbursement).
Miss Matty and Jessie Brown (Julia Sawalha) compare notes. They both hope for news from India but agree it’s more painful to keep the hope alive. Meanwhile, Mary Smith is conspiring with the ladies of Cranford to save Miss Matty who may be forced to sell her home and move away. They club together to give her fifty pounds a year on top of her remaining thirteen. Captain Brown (Jim Carter) is introduced to sell this increase in income as an accounting error by the administrators handling the bank’s insolvency. At his urging, she agrees to turn her front room into a shop selling tea. All this, together with a small sum of rent from Martha and Jem as her tenants, should give her enough to live on.
Mary Smith is also busy on the doctor’s case. She has identified his friend as the one who sent the valentine to Caroline Tomkinson. He returns to Cranford to clear up the mess and is just in time to help deal with two crises. Having argued with Lady Ludlow over her decision to mortgage the Hall, Edmund Carter is talking with Captain Brown where the railway line is being driven through the hills when they are both injured in an explosion. Captain Brown may lose the sight in one eye but, despite the best efforts of both doctors, Edmund Carter dies. However, he does have time to dictate a will to Miss Galindo and roughly sign his name. This leaves all his estate to Harry Gregson subject to two conditions. First, he’s to go to Shrewsbury School. Second, he’s to lend the bulk of the money to Lady Ludlow for her to pay off the mortgage. The full amount of capital and interest will be repayable on her death by her son. This produces a moving reconciliation between Lady Ludlow and Harry who’s released from the cow sheds to study with the Reverend Hutton. This will bring his knowledge to a better level and reduce bullying at school. The second crisis comes when Sophy contracts typhoid. Fortunately, the Reverend Hutton relents and Dr Frank Harrison saves her life.
Mary Smith continues her work as the Fairy Godmother of Cranford by bringing Major Gordon (Alistair Petrie) back from India. He surprises Jessie and they confirm a marriage. Major Gordon also brings Peter Jenkyns (Nicholas Le Prevost) Miss Matty’s long-long brother back for a tearful reunion. Peter finally delivers the muslim promised for Miss Matty’s proposed wedding with Mr Holbrook. Miss Matty gives it to Sophy — as one old rectory girl to another. Caroline Tomkinson marries the butcher (at least she will eat well) and Mrs Rose takes up with Dr Morgan (John Bowe). The marriages represent the end of the original series and produce the requisite quality of “happiness” given the essentially romantic nature of the story.
This captures the major problem with the series. I confess my ignorance of the source novels so I don’t know how much could have been added to resolve all the other problems, but leaving this as essentially a romantic drama seems such a waste. This is supposed to be about Cranford, a fledgling town struggling to emerge from its early Victorian straitjacket and embrace the new age. That means dealing with the railway issue as deciding the economic future of the town, and looking more widely at the class issues at they affect the servants and workers on the land. It may be wonderfully “middle class” to neatly tie up all the romantic loose ends in such a pretty way, but this is not the reality for most who lived in the town. The story element featuring Harry Gregson has been a perfect opportunity wasted for we only ever see the rest of the family for a few seconds at a time. Similarly, Martha’s position could have been matched against one or one people working for Lady Ludlow. So despite finding the performances of all the ladies completely entrancing, I’m left feeling a little underwhelmed by the lack of social content.