Greg Wise plays Sir Charles Maulver
Greg Wise has acted in his fair share of period pieces, including BBC adaptations of Madame Bovary, The Moonstone and The Buccaneers.
"There's something quite wonderful about wearing your big boots, britches, waistcoats and cravats that really sets you in the world that you're inhabiting very nicely," he says.
"I've been very lucky to be allowed to explore these wonderful novels as an actor, and books that have stood the test of time, with a good story and strong characters, generally make for exciting dramas.
"But at one point I realised I'd done too much 'britches work' and had to stop, so Cranford is my first time in big boots for quite a while."
Madame Bovary (2000) was also scripted by Cranford writer Heidi Thomas.
"That was also the last time I was on a horse," recalls Greg, whose wife Emma Thompson won an Oscar for her 1995 film adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense And Sensibility, in which he also featured.
His describes his Cranford character Sir Charles Maulver as "the local bigwig and entrepreneur" who outrages polite society by plotting to bring the railway line – and all the modernity it embodies – to the town.
"He very much puts the cat among the pigeons because the middle classes, the good ladies of Cranford, don't want the railway to come to their quiet little bastion of old times," he explains.
"As the Duke of Wellington said, the railways cause the poorer people to travel more, and the ladies become tremendously concerned about being robbed by riff-raff. So Sir Charles is seen as a sort of evil figure.
"Gaskell has created a very tightly knit community – one which doesn't necessarily want to be outward-looking and is very self-regarding.
"I think Cranford is, in part, a very interesting exploration of how an insular society, one which distrusts outsiders, handles change, and that makes it relevant to today's world and people's concerns about migrants, refugees and the whole terrorist thing."
So Cranford, for Greg, 41, harks back to perhaps simpler, but not necessarily better, times.
"I think it would have been rather wonderful to have been wealthy – and I mean properly wealthy – in that period," he says.
"But I'm very happy living in the 21st century with my mobile phone and my iPod."
The laid-back Newcastle-born actor has a full CV with recent TV credits including The Commander, Trial & Retribution, Miss Marple and Hornblower. However, after taking time off after the birth of his daughter, Greg admits that he found it hard to go back to work.
"I took quite a lot of time off when our daughter (now seven) was born, and found it difficult to scrabble back into the world of work, but I've done quite a lot in the last couple of years.
"I just enjoy doing different things. It keeps me healthy."