Richard Armitage week continues! Episode 2 starts with a very cute little boy and girl who are picking up extra cotton from the floor. They have to move fast, or the mechanized looms that the weavers are using will run over them! Mrs. Thornton, a woman with a “stern brow” (like her son), is walking through the mill, scrutinizing the workers. The workers refer to her as “the dragon.”
Margaret & Thornton in the mill courtyard
Maragret gets the name of a good doctor (Donaldson) from Mrs. Thornton, who is concerned about a possible strike. We can see that Margaret has a concern for the workers at the mill. She asks the (teen) girls if they like working and they give their opinions freely, until they spy their boss approaching.
Here in the North, we value our independence.
When Margaret explains she came to his house, Thornton wonders if she’s ill (note the seriousness/concern on his face). Then they have a discussion about the “duty” of being a master. Here Richard Armitage reveals more of Thornton’s ethical values, as well as his attraction toward Margaret. She is a bit surprised that he openly tells her about the workers’ conditions. Note his eyes as he speaks- he is clearly enjoying their little talk.
Margaret has a chat with Bessie
They joke a bit about the Thorntons. We learn the seriousness of Bessie’s condition (cotton “fluff” in her lungs from when she was little). Then, Margaret reveals the truth of her older brother, Frederick (Rupert Evans), who was unfairly branded with being a traitor after a mutiny. He lives in Cadiz, Spain, after a time in South America. The Hales miss him deeply and wonder if they’ll ever see him again. This grows upon one of the big themes in North & South– fairness.
The Thorntons at home
I wish you would try to like Miss Hale, mother.
With the strike potentially looming, Mrs. Thornton is a bit apprehensive about having her dinner party. She and Fanny reveal their dislike for Margaret, which bothers John. They think she “gives herself airs” (acts superior), though her family is “not rich” and “she cannot play” (piano). Mrs. Thornton reveals that “she’ll never have you.” You can see the disappointment flicker across John’s face, then a little smile, and acceptance. (He thinks he’s not good enough for Margaret at this time.) John tries to play it cool, saying that they should try to like her because she’s the daughter of his friend.
Planning the strike
No, no violence. Masters expect us to be violent. We will show them we are thinking men.
Workers from several mills are getting ready for the strike, urged on by Nicholas (who works at Hamper’s), who is repected by most of the men. He says that they must all stick together, not like five years ago, when half of them succumbed. The men chant and cheer, thinking that they will get a wage increase this time. Boucher (who works at Marlborough Mills) has very strong doubts still.
Meeting Mr. Bell
Mr. Hale’s closest Oxford friend, Mr. Bell (Brian Protheroe), comes for a visit and compliments Margaret (calling her a “goddess”). At first, she is embarassed, as she doesn’t see herself in that way. Mr. Bell is in town to see his banker, as he’s heard about the possible strike.
Higgins vs. Boucher
Boucher, who has grown very desperate, can’t stand to see his family go hungry and says that the union has no pity. Nicholas (angrily) gives him some money from the union’s strike fund, but it’s not enough. Later, we see Margaret leave some food outside the Boucher home, as his wife won’t directly take charity.
Mrs. Thornton’s dinner
Oooh, this is the point where we see Thornton all dressed up! There is also the hottest handshake in history- he doesn’t want to release Margaret’s hand. The camera lingers on their hands. They are clearly attracted to each other on some level. John looks at her like she’s the only one in the room for a time. I love the little sigh (barely perceptible) he gives before he has to leave Margaret!
When they sit down to dinner, it’s a different story. The guests are surprised to learn that Margaret is friends with the likes of Higgins. Thornton thinks that giving Boucher a basket is just prolonging the strike. Margaret shoots back: “But surely, to give dying baby food!”
Margaret learns about her mother’s health
Dixon has been hiding the fact that Mrs. Hale’s condition is getting worse. Dr. Donaldson has been visiting relgulary, Dixon admits. Margaret and her mother have a emotional talk; her mother breaks down in tears. They decide to keep the truth from her father (he’ll worry too much). Margaret explains to Dixon that she “can bear it better” than Mr. Hale.
The strikers strike back
Thornton has brought in the Irish workers via an agent under cover of night. The next morning, Margaret comes to the Thornton home to see about the “water mattress” which Fanny said she could borrow. Fanny is very scared of the strikers who are at the gates. Eventually, the strikers push open the main gate and rush the courtyard.
Margaret tells Thornton to go down and “face them like a man.” Note the surprise on Thornton’s face. A few moments later, she follows him out, realizing that he’s in danger. When he refuses to send the Irish back, the crowd gets even angrier. Margaret puts her arms around Thornton’s neck, insisting that “they will not hurt a woman.” But it’s too late, Boucher hurls a rock which hits her on the left side of her head. She falls to the floor, unconscious and wounded, much to the shock of Thornton. The soldiers arrive on horseback and beat some of the strikers down. The others run off as fast as they can.
Consequences of the strike
While Thornton is off talking with the other masters, all he can think about is Margaret lying bloodied. (Some viewers commented that there is more blood on her face, in his mind, than in actuality. Hmmm… that could be the case!) Margaret has decided to go home, after Dr. Donaldson checks her out. Mrs. Thornton and Fanny are amazed to hear such a thing. However, her mother is unwell and knowing of such an event would be too much for her.
She’s such a reckless young woman!
When Thornton returns home, he’s amazed that Miss Hale has gone. His mother insists that “everything was done properly.” He says he’s going to check on her, but she asks him not to go. Then there is a dialogue-free sequence where we see that he has goes for a walk instead. Meanwhile, Margaret tends to Bessie, who’s gotten worse.
The mother-son talk
This is one of the best scenes in the mini-series! John comes back from a long walk and starts to tell his mother what he’ll “have to say” to Miss Hale. (We assume that he wants to thank her.) However, Mrs. Thornton point s out that “she made her feelings plain for all to see” by rushing out to save him. The servants all saw and the whole town will be gossiping about it. As a man of honor, her son should propose to Margaret. John is very surprised to hear this interpretation, because he didn’t even dare to think that Margaret could love him. He doubts that she cares for him. Notice how his face softens as he reveals his true feelings to his mother (as she is the only person he can be vulnerable around). Armitage and Sinead Cusack not only look like they could be related, they have terrific chemistry together!
The proposal (end of Episode 2)
I understand you completely.
As regular readers know, I wrote about the proposal scene before. (I prefer the extended scene which is under the special features.) John and Margaret really push each other’s buttons in this scene! They are both very proud, spirited individuals with strong value systems. They start off talking about the strike, then he switches the subject to feelings. Now, Margaret is not thinking in that vein, so she stops him fast with some cutting remarks (recall her word choice). This wounds his pride- he shoots back, claiming that he loves her (not doing this to protect her reputation). They don’t yet understand each other. Wow, just a perfect ending to the episode!