“North & South” (BBC)

Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret Hale and Richard Armitage as John Thornton


Cotton, tea pouring, and firm handshakes NEVER looked SO good!  A very unlikely romance, labor union struggles, friendship across social classes, and other very “modern” themes are found in this timeless story (not unlike the work of Jane Austen).  However, unlike JA, Mrs. Gaskell delves into the lives of the poor/working class in Milton (a city VERY similar to Manchester) where she moved after she married.  I’m reading the novel, and this adaptation stays close to it.  If you haven’t seen this 2004 show yet, check out You Tube (under MissJaneAustenfan, a young Spanish woman who is ALSO crazy over period dramas).   


Or you can buy the DVD (set of 2 discs) online or at your B&N store.  It’s worth it!

UPDATE: It’s now also on Netflix! 


Background, Setting, & Costumes  

The time period is AFTER that of JA- N&S is set during the start of the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England.  The main protagonist is Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe), around 18 at start of tale, who moves from the South (Helstone) to the North (Milton) with her parents and trusty old servant.  Mr. Hale (Tim Pigott-Smith- from The Remains of the Day) didn’t lose his faith; he didn’t like how the church was being run.  To him, it was “a matter of conscience.”  He became a tutor instead.  JA’s parsons would NEVER do such a thing- leave job and move to rough, big city! 

Margaret sees inside cotton mill


When I first saw N&S, it took me away to a different place/time.  The music is AWESOME!  This is definitely NOT like the (usually) green, sunny, cozy JA world!  It is harsh city life, including social isolation (MH is so desperate for friends that she follows a mill worker on her way home!), poverty, hunger, etc.  MH, who is from a small town, is at a loss for a few months; she misses Helstone desperately.  Her clothes, as we learn in Episode 2 are from LAST year.  “Mind you- you’ll have to get much smarter clothes if you want to catch him,” her aforementioned friend, Bessie Higgins, jokes.  The colors she wears are dark, and her style is very simple.     

UPDATE: Bessie’s dad is played by Brendan Coyle (currently on the hit show Downton Abbey)!


Thornton at dinner party

Mr. Thornton the wealthy mill owner, has his business clothes (not so fine), but dresses up very sharp for tea, parties, etc.  His height (he’s tall in the book, too), stern brow, and deep voice also give him a formidable appearance.  He’s described as having “perfect teeth” in the book, energetic, with an air of importance about him. 


Story & Characters 

 We learn that the Hales married for love, and Maria was MUCH wealthier than her learned parson husband.  In the book, Mr. Hale is described as being tall, dark, and handsome.  Mrs. Hale was brought up with the best that good society could offer.  She was also very pretty, and had many marriage offers, but chose love over money.  Margaret’s (maternal) Aunt Shaw has a house in the best part of London.  In the book, this aunt married an older military man who had money, too.  Usually in JA’s novels, the girls fall for a guy WITH money.  Aunt Shaw was therefore very happy when her daughter married for love.  “Edith can afford to marry for love,” she says in the movie.

The main male protagonist, Mr. John Thornton, is played wonderfully by Richard Armitage (currently in the BBC TV show Robin Hood).  Mr. Thornton is definitely NOT like a typical JA hero.  He is a businessman, first and foremost, strong-willed, yet honest and open to new ideas (he is one of Mr. Hale’s private pupils). You won’t see him riding, shooting, though he (sometimes) goes on long walks across town to clear his head. 

Brooding Thornton reading paperIn the book, he is struck by MH when he first sees her.  In the film, they meet under VERY unusual circumstances, where she gets a bad impression about him.  Some of you may think- “Whoa!  How can these two get together!?” 

  Meeting at the Great Exhibition

When the story begins, he is about 30, and a BIG success- owns a cotton mill (Marlborough Mills) and serves as town magistrate.  In his mother’s eyes, he is the best son anyone can have. “I became head of the family very quickly,” he confesses when MH comments that he was “blessed with good luck and fortune.”  JT had to leave school as a teen and work to support the family, his mother (played by Sinead Cusack from Eastern Promises; married to Jeremy Irons!) and baby sister. 

Shaking hands at dinner party


The Conflicts 

Are the two (possible) lovers on the same SOCIAL level?  Hmmm… it was a BIT sketchy in Gaskell’s time. JT’s an up-and-coming guy (but is he a “gentleman”?) whereas MH’s father is an Oxford-educated gentleman.  Does JT care about the welfare of his workers, or solely profit? (MH is NOT sure about his TRUE character for QUITE some time in the story.)  Shades of Lizzie and Darcy here, of course!

Margaret kisses Thornton's hand

I am in the middle of the novel, and will write MORE about that later.  You must see the show for yourself to uncover more of this GREAT tale!

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