IT PUTS WOMEN CENTRE STAGE
Not that there's anything wrong with period dramas which put men AND women centre stage. After all, we love Pride and Prejudice, and North and South, and plenty of other timeless romances. And Cranford itself does have its very own handsome heroes, as well as love stories which will have you making small fist pumps when things go right for our lovers. (Is it appropriate to fist pump while watching a show like Cranford? Let's be daring and do it anyway.)
But the real focus of this show is always on the females. Many, many females. This is a world dominated by what the Victorians would have thought of as the "weaker sex", but in Cranford they're anything but. From queenly aristocrats holding court in their country piles, to stern spinsters laying down the law to hapless newcomers, the women of this town are firmly in charge, and it makes for a unique, inspiring, refreshing take on 19th Century England which will take even costume drama veterans by surprise.
IT HAS THE PERFECT CAST
A new term should be invented to describe any film or TV show featuring a perfect group of actors: it should be called a "Cranford cast". It's not just that Cranford boasts more national treasures than you could ever want, it's the fact they're so incredibly well suited to the parts they play. Take Dame Eileen Atkins - always a hawkish presence on the screen, she might have been born to play the dominating Deborah Jenkyns, who makes everyone quiver with a flick of her eyebrow. Meanwhile, fellow icon Judi Dench shows her more vulnerable, scatty side as sister Matty.
Elsewhere in the cast there's the great Imelda Staunton as the town gossip, forever on the hunt for the latest bit of salacious news, so full of energy that we can't help be charmed even when we know she really should keep a lid on things sometimes. Julia Sawalha and Julia McKenzie are among the rest of Cranford's wily womenfolk, while the male cast also boasts some heavyweight stars in the form of the masterful Michael Gambon and Downton Abbey's own Jim Carter, who plays one of the few men the local ladies actually respect.
IT'S FULL OF CHARMING STORIES
Rather than revolving around one or two characters, Cranford is a portrait of an entire town, weaving together various different stories to create a tapestry of Victorian life. What's particularly charming is that some of these strands aren't big and bombastic, but gentle and often delightfully eccentric - like the saga around the local cow Bessie, who causes quite a ruckus when she goes missing.
There are also the excited preparations for Lady Ludlow's garden party, always a big event in Cranford, as well as the plight of young Harry - a poor but plucky lad who is taken under the wing of an unexpected benefactor. And of course there are the romantic entanglements of handsome Dr Harrison, who steals the hearts of local ladies without even realising it.
IT'S A SLICE OF HISTORY
It's always nice when a costume drama actually expands our minds a little bit, and Cranford provides a fascinatingly detailed portrait of life in a changing Britain. Set right in the middle of the Victorian era, its characters are seeing the Industrial Revolution drag them into a new age of energy and industry, and many of them don't like it one bit. One of the big plot points is the arrival of the railway to the area - a big gleaming steam-spewing symbol of modernity, which threatens to disrupt the serene rural calm of Cranford. No prizes for guessing how some of the local spinsters feel about that...
AND... IT'S JUST SO COMFY
This is perhaps the single greatest reason you won't want to leave the world of Cranford. It's just so wonderfully cosy and comfortable to watch, the TV equivalent of a warm hug, full of quiet pleasures and heartwarming interactions and little funny moments. Whether we're watching Jim Carter trying to find an errant farm animal, or Judi Dench trying and failing to eat peas with a fork, it's just wonderful from start to finish. Make yourself a nest on the sofa and enjoy.