Cranford will be returning with a two-part special to be shown at Christmas in 2009, the BBC has announced.

Starring Dame Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton and Julia McKenzie, the costume drama became a surprise hit for BBC1 when it was shown in November 2007, pulling in almost eight million viewers.

Cranford follows the fortunes of Miss Matty (Dame Judi) and the inhabitants of a small Cheshire market town in the early 1840s on the cusp of great change.

The Christmas special picks up the story in September 1844, a year after the town celebrates the wedding of Sophy (Kimberley Nixon) and Dr Harrison (Simon Woods).

The drama proved popular with the critics too, picking up four nominations for this year’s BAFTA Television Awards, to be held in London on Sunday April 20.

Kate Harwood, BBC head of series and serials and executive producer of Cranford, commented: “Cranford captured the hearts of the nation last year as, every week, nearly eight million viewers tuned in to catch up with Miss Matty and her fellow villagers.

“I am delighted that we are able to bring these much-loved characters back to life for a Christmas special in 2009 and once again uniting an unprecedented pool of talent to thrill and entertain our audiences.”