I was so, so impressed with the conclusion of Return to Cranford. My only complaint about this second series is that is wasn’t longer. Here’s the brief episode summary of part two from the Masterpiece website:
William Buxton's big news is not warmly received by his father. William, in turn, decides to strike out on his own in an apprenticeship with Captain Brown on the railway. But the work is difficult, and his separation from Peggy problematic.
The social scene of Cranford becomes the center of focus when Mrs. Jamieson's sister-in-law Lady Glenmire arrives. The women of Cranford eagerly anticipate some interactions, but are seemingly spurned by their friend Mrs. Jamieson. Lady Glenmire, with the encouragement of Captain Brown, takes matters into her own hands, and plans a party.
In the meantime, Miss Galindo is concerned about Harry Gregson, who has disappeared from school. Worse still, it becomes clear he has a very good reason for running away.
The friendships in Cranford are strained when a surprise wedding shocks everyone. But no one can know the tragedy and challenge that await and will threaten the ties of the close-knit Cranford community, putting the women to their ultimate test.
As I mentioned in my review of part one, my favorite storyline in Return to Cranford is the romance that develops between William (Tom Hiddleston) and Peggy (Jodie Wittaker). I didn’t see how it would be possible, but this storyline gets oh so much better in part two when the stakes are raised. When William makes his intentions known regarding Peggy, his father (Jonathan Pryce) erupts in anger, since marriage to a woman of Peggy’s standing does not fit with his plans for William’s political future. Thankfully, William tells his father just what he can do with his plans (in a very respectful, 19th-century manner, of course – LOL), and goes to work for the first time in his life as an engineering apprentice to Captain Brown (Jim Carter), who’s overseeing construction of the new railway. William and Peggy become Cranford’s star-crossed lovers, the town’s own version of Romeo and Juliet, only much less annoying than those two and thankfully, with happy ending after much heartache. There is something so incredibly romantic watching William and Peggy’s relationship grow through secretly exchanged letters, and watching William struggle to establish himself as an engineer and prove that he can support himself, and a wife, without his father’s patronage. Tom Hiddleston is just swoon-worthy here – I loved every moment.
Since I mentioned Captain Brown, I’m going to backtrack here and discuss his surprising courtship and marriage, which resulted in some wonderfully funny and poignant scenes. Brown has mellowed out considerably since he first came to Cranford, learning to see the merits of Cranford’s slower pace of life, thanks to residents like Miss Matty. When the pretentious Mrs. Jamieson’s (Barbara Flynn) widowed sister-in-law, Lady Glenmire, comes to visit, the rumor mill starts wagging since she’s titled. Mrs. Jamieson offends everyone when she makes it known that the women of Cranford need not bother her illustrious relative (played by Celia Imrie). Brown intervenes when the newcomer is snubbed, resulting in an especially hilarious scene when Lady Glenmire takes Mrs. Jamieson’s dog for a walk near the railroad construction, and the dog apparently nearly dies or something and has to be “revived.” It was so funny to watch them “consult” over the proper course of treatment. When their friendship results in a whirlwind surprise marriage, it’s fascinating to watch the social ramifications of so “rash” an action play out in the small town atmosphere. Those obsessed with social status are horrified by the impropriety of such a match involving two people from very different social backgrounds, while others (like Miss Matty) love seeing a romance between two people “their own age” play out right before their eyes. The latter group breaks your heart just a bit, because you know these characters can’t help but relive their pasts and wonder what might have been.
Harry (Alex Etel) had returned to school at the end of part one. Several months later, his advocate in Cranford, Miss Galindo (Emma Fielding), is horrified to discover that he’s run away from school due to abuse suffered at the hands of his classmates. Though we only hear about these events after the fact, this is one more way in which this miniseries brings to light class distinctions during this time period and how incredibly hard it was to change one’s circumstances. When Harry runs away again, he sets in motion a chain of events that will bring great tragedy to Cranford – a fiery train wreck. This wreck is cause by, of all things, Mrs. Forrester’s pajama-wearing cow wandering onto the tracks. Honestly, and I promise I’m not overstating things here, the cow’s death is probably one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen in a BBC period drama. I was quite traumatized. :P Anyway, after this near death experience, Harry receives the happy ending he’s longed for – a home with Miss Galindo and the chance to attend school closer to Cranford. These two are bonded together by a shared love and admiration for Mr. Carter, Harry’s benefactor, and it brought a tear to my eye to see the two of them form their own little family.
The train wreck also proves to be the making of William and Peggy’s happiness, after a very close call of course. Throughout this series, Peggy’s been on a character-building fast-track, learning to stand up to her domineering mother and brother, and proving her mettle to William’s father. She also receives some romantic encouragement from Miss Matty (Judi Dench), who tragically had her own romantic hopes thwarted twice. When Matty informs William that Peggy is taking her embezzling, worthless brother out of the country, he races to intercept the train. And yes, maybe the whole racing-to-stop-the-train thing is clichéd, but I loved every moment of it. William really seizes the moment here and becomes even more of a romantic hero by rescuing Peggy from the overturned railcar – and then he nearly gets himself blown up. I could barely stand the drama, people!! The two are only reunited after William spends several weeks convalescing, and Peggy remains a faithful visitor even while being denied entrance to the house. The moment when they’re finally united, after months of hardship and separation, is oh so sweet.
Tom Hiddleston as William Buxton
Jodie Wittaker as Peggy Bell
Jodie Wittaker as Peggy Bell
Since the heart of Cranford is Miss Matty and her dearest friends, it’s only fitting that this series ends with Miss Matty using her savings to renovate the neglected assembly rooms and bring in an exotic magician for a Christmas performance. Along with Mrs. Jamieson, Mrs. Forrester, Miss Pole (Imelda Staunton), and Miss Tomkinson (Deborah Findlay), Miss Matty restores Cranford’s assembly rooms to their former glory, and the entire town is brought together to celebrate the power of community following the devastating shock of the train wreck. It’s touching and humbling, in a sense, to watch these women relive past glories through this process – but they don’t dwell on the past. No matter what happens, this core group of friends has always learned to look forward. I have to mention Tim Curry as Signor Brunoni, the visiting magician. He’s perfectly cast in the role, and the fact that Miss Pole is quite taken with him just adds to the fun. While much has changed in Cranford over the course of this series, the importance of family and friends has, if anything, only been amplified. Again, this show nearly made me cry when Miss Matty receives the best present she ever could’ve wished for – Martha’s daughter Tilly, and her now-widowed husband Jem have returned to Cranford for good. Though change can be indescribably difficult, it’s heartening to witness how the residents of Cranford have weathered the storms that come their way. I only hope that maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to visit this town again in the future.