Lisa Dillon plays Miss Mary Smith
Cranford begins with the arrival of Mary Smith at the home of the Jenkyns sisters, fleeing a family crisis in Manchester. Her introduction to the town is also ours, according to Lisa Dillon.
"I think in many ways Mary Smith is Elizabeth Gaskell," says Lisa.
"Mary keeps a diary and she discovers Cranford at the same pace as the audience – she is often their eyes.
"She's quite a modern young woman, and it is almost like stepping back in time for her – there are moments when she is quite amazed how behind the times the Jenkyns sisters might be.
"I think Mary – and possibly, therefore, Gaskell – is very much pro-modernisation, but at the same time she has huge admiration for the women of Cranford. She recognises Cranford's heart but also knows it has to change, it has to change to keep up, and she is very much for that.
"I'm longing to do something other than period drama," laughs the Coventry-born, RADA-trained actress, who also featured in Stephen Fry's film Bright Young Things and the BBC drama Cambridge Spies.
"Dressing up for period drama completely kicks you into another world," she admits.
"You find yourself doing things physically and mentally that you'd just never do but there does come a point when you have corset burn and bonnet fever!"
Lisa, whose stage credits include Ibsen's The Master Builder, Desdemona in Othello for the RSC, and Period Of Adjustment by Tennessee Williams,
is currently appearing in Noel Coward's Present Laughter at the National Theatre.