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Cranford played fast and loose with Elizabeth Gaskell's plots—yet was still a triumph. It showed that the BBC can pull in big audiences for serious drama

By Christopher Hird   January 2008

The phrase “period costume drama” could have been invented for the purpose of damning with faint praise. As in: “Period costume dramas are what the BBC excels at”—a comment which often implies that since costume dramas are all the BBC does well, it is these that they should concentrate on, and that anyway they are not that hard to pull off. It’s a remark often associated with anti-BBC sentiment. So when the corporation unveiled its Cranford series—based on the mid-19th century works of Elizabeth Gaskell—there were predictable mutterings that it was a safe, unsurprising production aimed at middle England. In…

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