Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cranford - a "Multi-Threaded Production"

The third episode of "Cranford" is being shown on BBC1 this evening. Over the course of last week I have puzzled over my reaction to the production. If I hadn’t only recently read Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford I might not have been so bemused. I was quite prepared to find that the actors and the locations didn’t match the pictures in my mind – how could they? I also didn’t expect the dramatisation to follow every word in the book – after all it is a dramatic representation, not a book.

Still, after seeing two episodes and looking at the preview of the third, I think that by amalgamating Cranford with two other books the end result is not Cranford. One difference that really has jarred is concerning Mary Smith. In the novel Mary is the narrator. She lives in Drumble (Manchester) with her father and writes about her visits to Cranford at different intervals over a number of years. Her father is an old friend of the Jenkyns family, maybe even a distant relative, who helps with Miss Matty’s business affairs. Nowhere in Cranford is there any indication that Mary Smith has a stepmother and stepbrothers and sisters, but they appear in the TV series – I can’t see how they add anything to the story. And why was it necessary to make Miss Brown’s death take place before her father’s? I could go on.

The BBC’s Press Office page has some interesting information that explains how the script was written. The creators did not think that there was enough material in the novel suitable for a straightforward adaptation. So, as they wanted to keep “true to the spirit of Gaskell” they took several of her books and interwove them together. This quote from the Production Notes explains the process:

"We took a lot of liberties with Elizabeth Gaskell," Sue continues. "We lost some of her characters, we amalgamated some and we invented. We shuffled story beats around and we added extras to some of the stories from the other books.

"And we lifted out two comic incidents from her essays about her childhood which weren't in the novels. In the end, we had interwoven parts of all the three novels so closely that it took on a life of its own, and essentially became a new drama.”

Cranford is thus a multi-threaded production, combining three of Elizabeth Gaskell’s books and essays as well as introducing new material. They have indeed produced a new drama. My question is – do I want to watch it? I’m not so sure that I do.

Francesca Annis is quoted in the Press Pack:

"I read Gaskell's My Lady Ludlow, and (Cranford writer) Heidi Thomas's characterisation is quite faithful to her but she obviously had to leave out a huge amount of detail that I found completely fascinating.

"But then this serial isn't called Lady Ludlow... unfortunately!"

Maybe it shouldn’t be called “Cranford”, either.

One thing I do know is that thanks to this production, I shall read Mr Harrison’s Confessions and My Lady Ludlow.

9 comments:

cherrytree said...

Could you please help me? I love the Book Journal you keep and would love to know where it came from. I live in Australia and would love to find something similar here. My email is brendangela@optusnet.com.au

I read you blog regularly and love talking about books.

Ange

cranfordchronicles.com said...

The show was originally to be called Cranford Chronicles. This would have been a better discription of the conent.

Nan - said...

You know I've seen this before. As much as I truly love Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in the Jeeves and Wooster programs, the writers often combined a couple of Wodehouse stories into one show, and I found it confusing and just not that good. There is enough going on in one W. story without mixing two together!

StuckInABook said...

I LOVE the Cranford production, though that is almost entirely because of the wonderful, wonderful cast. I agree the shifting around of the story is a little odd, but I can more or less forgive it - at least the other sources are Gaskell rather than the brain of some executive producer. The cat/lace incident must have been the 'comic' incident from the essay... I haven't read the Lady Ludlow (though she does seem quite incongruous to the story) - I have read Mr. Harrison's Confessions, which is very funny, and set in a village which is near enough Cranford - I think his inclusion relly works.

BooksPlease said...

Cranford Chronicles - yes that would have been better.

Nan, I'm glad I'm not the only one. I find it puzzling because not only are there different things happening, the sequence of events has been changed - I'm expecting something and it doesn't happen, or it's different.

Simon, it's the cast that make it - otherwise I wouldn't carry on watching it. The cat/lace incident is in "Cranford" by the way. I think Lady Ludlow does fit in - it seems Lady Glenmire has been ditched!

Danielle said...

I hope we'll be able to watch it in the US eventually. I'm sure it will show up on PBS sooner or later.

Tara said...

Your post remind me of the Little House on the Prairie TV series from the 70s-80s based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's books - did you have that there? The characters were mostly the same but the situations became more and more far fetched and new characters were added as time went on and it didn't bear much relation to the original.

GeraniumCat said...

It's such a long time since I read one of the books that I have been enjoying the series very much. Some of the performances are wonderful, particularly Judi Dench. And I know that I will go back to the books at the end of the series and enjoy them - I shall be able to take some of the faces I liked best from the series and visualise them when I read, and re-invent the rest.

BooksPlease said...

Tara I think I do remember The Little House on the Prairie, but not any details and I haven't read the books.

Geraniumcat, I wish I hadn't reread Cranford. I agree that the performances are excellent - a great cast and beautiful locations.