VIDEO: Dame Judi Dench and Imelda Staunton talk exclusively to about BBC1’s epic new costume drama Cranford

As Cranford’s Miss Matty, Dame Judi Dench was keen to appear in the BBC’s new five-part drama having become a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels while at school. “I don’t think the majority of people will know the story,” she says. “And I think it’s rather exciting to find a classic with an element of surprise.”

Judi heads up an all-star cast including Eileen Atkins, Francesca Annis, Sir Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton. With a cast list like this, it’s hardly surprising that up-and-coming actors like Simon Woods, Cranford’s young Dr Harrison, wanted a piece of the action. “I’ve never seen a cast list like that so I knew I wanted to do it before I’d even read the script,” he says. “I don’t think anybody would have said no.”

Actor Philip Glenister saw Cranford as an opportunity to take time out from his role as maverick cop Gene Hunt in the Life On Mars spin-off Ashes To Ashes. “It was important for me to not get typecast,” he says. “And if you’re going to be part of something, why not be part of this?”

For actress Imelda Staunton, the magic of Cranford lies in its many characters. “The body of Cranford is run by middle-aged women, not giggly women, very strong women and that’s what appealed to me,” she says. “And it’s very funny and very moving.”

VIDEO: Watch Cranford interviews