Like many others we have been watching Cranford of BBC TV. Mrs Gaskell's story of life in a northern town with precise manners has been captivating millions as we all play spot the thespian. Dame Judy Dench and Dame Eileen Atkins will be joined tomorrow by Sir Michael Gambon, but we have already been entertained by several actors with plenty of experience of costume drama. Julia Sawalha was in Pride and Prejudice as well as Martin Chuzzlewit (and before that in Inspector Morse). Francesca Annis was in Wives and Daughters, a recent Jane Eyre and Madame Bovary and an early Great Expectations. Imelda Staunton was in David Copperfield and Canterbury Tales. Julia Mackenzie was in The Old Curiosity Shop. Lesley Manville was in North and South and a different David Copperfield to Imelda Staunton. She was also in Topsy Turvey, the Gilbert and Sullivan biopic and is a Mike Leigh regular.
Barbara Flynn was in Wives and Daughters and was Beatrix Potter's mother in Miss Potter, Mary Queen of Scots in Elizabeth 1; she was in Hornblower, the color version of the Forsyte Saga, Lorna Doone, the Barchester Chronicles and like many of the above, she was one of Morse's ladies. Deborah Findley was in Wives and Daughters and Anna Karenina. Jim Carter was in Wind in the Willows, Hornblower, the Madness of King George, Philip Glenister was in Hornblower, the Other Boleyn Girl, Vanity Fair, a Sharpe and, of course, the wonderful Life on Mars. Greg wise also did Hornblower, Madam Bovary, as well as Alice Through The Looking Glass, The Moonstone and Sense and Sensibility. Andrew Buchan did Jane Eyre.
Michael Gambon is of course famous for having done just about everything including Dumbledore, but as far as period pieces are concerned, he is in the new Brideshead to be released next year, and was in Gosford Park, Longitude, Wives and Daughters, the Wings of The Dove, Wind in the Willows (and since it's Thanksgiving I should mentions Squanto). Eileen Atkins was in Vanity Fair, Gosford Park, David Copperfield, Madame Bovary, Cold Comfort Farm, Oliver Twist, Sons and Lovers, The Duchess of Malfi and of course she was one of the creators of Upstairs Downstairs. Judy Dench was in a rather inferior Pride and Prejudice (the one with Keira Knightley), The Importance of Being Earnest, Middlemarch, and of course numerous interpretations of various British Queens.
Most of the actors have appeared in Miss Marples or Poirots or Midsummer Murders or Morse. It's almost as if there is one vast repertory theatre with actors swapping roles very week. Sometimes they are the lead, sometimes it's only a bit part.
Spurred on by Cranford, we have also watched the other Mrs Gaskell productions, North and South and Wives and Daughters. Excellent! And if you haven't seen them get the DVDs. Ladies, I guarantee that Richard Armitage as John Thornton will send teh same shivers of pleasure down your spine as Colin Firth did in Pride and Prejudice.