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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 January 2007, 12:24 GMT
Dame Judi signs up for BBC drama
Dame Judi Dench
Dame Judi Dench is in the running for an Oscar this year
Oscar-winning star Dame Judi Dench is to appear in a five-part BBC One serial based on novels by Elizabeth Gaskell.

The 72-year-old actress will play Miss Matty Jenkyns in Cranford Chronicles - a 19th Century drama exploring life in a fictional rural town in Cheshire.

Dame Judi said she was "so excited" to appear in a series that would give her "a summer of fun to look forward to".

Written by Heidi Thomas, author of BBC One's Lilies, the show starts filming in April in the Cotswolds and London.

Cranford Chronicles is based on three Gaskell books - Cranford, Mr Harrison's Confessions and My Lady Ludlow.

Her novels Wives and Daughters and North and South were serialised by the BBC in 1999 and 2004 respectively.

'Spirit crushed'

Dame Judi won an Academy Award in 1999 for Shakespeare in Love and has been nominated again this year for Notes on a Scandal.

Her work for the BBC has included TV film The Last of the Blonde Bombshells and long-running sitcom As Time Goes By.

Simon Callow and Judi Dench in Merry Wives - The Musical (photo Stewart Hemley)
Dame Judi is currently acting on stage in Stratford-upon-Avon
According to the BBC, Cranford Chronicles "captures the small absurdities and major tragedies in the lives of people besieged by forces they cannot hope to withstand".

Dame Judi's character is described as a woman "whose hopes and lively spirit were crushed when she was forced as a young woman to give up the man she loved".

"The logistics of mounting such a production have inevitably taken a while to pull together," BBC Fiction controller Jane Tranter said.

"But we are very excited at the prospect of the piece and of welcoming Judi Dench back."

Dame Judi is currently in Stratford-upon-Avon, appearing in the Royal Shakespeare Company's musical version of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

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