Julia McKenzie plays Mrs Forrester
Julia McKenzie was working alongside fellow Cranford star Dame Judi Dench four years ago when the role of impoverished widow Mrs Forrester first appeared on the horizon.
"I was doing a play with Judi in the West End, The Royal Family," Julia recalls. "Sue Birtwistle, the producer of Cranford, came to the first night, took me into a corner and said 'I've got a good part for you'."
Four years on, and even an actress with Julia's vast experience has been hugely impressed by the scope and ambition of the five-part drama.
"They don't make a great deal of this type of television, so it's an extra treat to be involved. It's just an amazing set-up, the whole thing.
"I had lunch with my agent recently and we spoke about life after Cranford, and I said that I didn't think there was any life after Cranford and could you please find me something else exactly like it!"
One of British stage and screen's most versatile performers, with a host of awards to her name, Julia admits the authenticity of Cranford's portrayal of 1840s England tested her and the rest of the cast.
"The language is very precise, and the sequence of words is quite different to modern speech," she explains.
"A lot of period pieces don't have the courage to carry things through and alter language to bring it into the modern idiom, but I think Heidi Thomas's scripts are beautifully balanced and very charming.
"We also spent a lot of time with (movement coach) Jane Gibson on how to wear the costumes, and things such as folding hands and how a gentleman would always take his hat off when he came into a room. We don't even wear hats now do we?"
Despite the personal dramas that unfold in Cranford at a time of great social upheaval, Julia sees its setting as a gentler age.
"On the whole, I preferred the world as it was when I was younger. It's got a little aggressive for me, and I think the absence of that side of the modern world is going to be part of the appeal of Cranford."