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In the 1840s, Cranford is ruled by the ladies. They adore good gossip; and romance and change is in the air, as the unwelcome grasp of the Industrial Revolution rapidly approaches their beloved rural market-town.
Bristol in 1787 is booming, from its stinking docks to its elegant new houses. Josiah Cole (Warren Clarke), a small dockside trader, is prepared to gamble everything to join the big players of the city. But he needs ready cash and a well-connected wife. An arranged marriage to Frances Scott (Emma Fielding) is a mutually convenient solution. Trading her social contacts for Josiah's protection, Frances enters the world of the Bristol merchants and finds her life and fortune dependent on the respectable trade of sugar, rum and slaves. Among the slaves is the educated and charismatic Mehuru (Ariyon Bakare). Lonely in her new life married to a boorish and uneducated husband with whom she has little in common, Frances finds herself increasingly drawn to Mehuru and him to her. But tensions are mounting and Mehuru and the other slaves are prepared to risk everything for their freedom.
Outstanding script, superb direction and Emma Fielding
This is not the typical bodice-ripping, 18th century romance, with all of the cliched lurking, thwarted passions. No, the central themes here are beautifully woven into a single strand, with the characters displaying a range and depth rarely seen in American cinema. Anna Massey, Warren Clarke (remember him as "Dim", the slow-witted droog in "A Clockwork Orange") and Aariyon Bakare present powerful and memorable performances. But Emma Fielding as Frances Scott absolutely steals this movie. This enormously talented London stage and RSC actress brings the whole package: extraordinary beauty, emotional range, presence, and a wondrous voice that is itself "sheer theatrical viagra" (forget about the recent overrated displays on the London stage in "The Blue Room" and "The Graduate"). Ms. Fielding richly deserves to be cast in the lead of full-length feature films, and in roles that require intelligence, imagination and her megawatt star-power.
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