BBC embraces its bonnets

Costume drama 'Cranford' is a hit

The BBC, battered by job cuts and highly sensitive issues involving audience deception, has at last received some good news: The first episode of its flagship fall drama, costume saga “Cranford,” attracted 8 million viewers — a hefty 29% audience share — on Sunday.

Since the Beeb is a pubcaster, ratings, however high, don’t always tell the full story. This is especially true at the moment, when the BBC’s new chairman, Michael Lyons, has effectively given director general Mark Thompson a year to clean up his act following the problems over faked documentary footage and fraud involving phone-in votes to BBC shows.

Launching “Cranford,” based on three novels by Elizabeth Gaskell, to opinion formers and Blighty’s TV drama community last week, Thompson declared, “This is what the BBC is for” before the opening credits began to roll.

“Cranford,” co-produced by the BBC’s regular costume drama collaborator, PBS station WGBH Boston, features Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins as two seventysomething sisters who rule the roost in the village of Cranford in the late 1800s. Heidi Thomas penned the script for the gentle social comedy.

“Cranford” is “even better than the torrent of advance publicity suggests,” wrote Blighty’s Daily Telegraph, which is fond of celebrating conservatism.

As for “Cranford’s” competition on Sunday night? It can’t be often that two septuagenarian actresses upstage ITV1’s “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!,” which managed 7.2 million viewers.

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