Two Films (w/ “North & South” actors)








The Glass Virgin (1995)

What qualities makes one a “gentleman” or “lady?”  Is one’s identity determined from birth, or can it change?  These are the questions at the core of Catherine Cookson’s The Glass Virgin.  As a child in 1870s England, Annabelle LeGrange is sheltered by her mother and servants.  One day, her curiosity leads her to see something long kept hidden. 

During a trip into town, Annabelle is rescued from a runaway coach by a young outsider, Miguel Mendoza (Brendan Coyle).  Seeing his strength, Mr. LaGrange offers him a job.  Miguel, who is actually Irish, says he’ll only work w/ horses.  In time, he teaches Annabelle to ride, and they become good friends.       

The 17 y.o. Annabelle (a young Emily Mortimer) flees from her life of upper-middle class comfort when her true parentage in revealed and her “father” arranges a marriage to be rid of her.  Annabelle’s only ally is Miguel, who insists on traveling w/ her to find another life.  The pair find work on a small farm, then a bigger one run by a good-hearted, fair-minded family.  They say they are cousins and live as such, never as a couple.   

Over the course of one tough, life-changing year, Annabelle learns and matures into her own person.  She teaches Miguel to read, and says that he has a lot of potential.  He falls in love w/ her, but keeps it hidden, as her station in life was so above his.  Can Annabelle marry a working-class man?  What will she do when called back to her mother and old way of life?






This film is not very well-made and had a low budget; it was a TV miniseries.  There are no frills, some bad (wooden) acting from supporting players, and weird transitions.   Most of the dialogue is very simple.  (Honestly, I watched it just b/c Brendan Coyle was in it.  He does a great job, as usual!)  Emily Mortimer, who was a newcomer to film then, takes some time to grow into her role.

Some viewers thought it was weird that an older friend from childhood became a love interest.  (But wait, what about Emma and Mr. Knightley?  He was 16 yrs older than her.)  Those who read the novel noted that Miguel was only 10 yrs older than Annabelle.  I had a Renaissance Lit prof who said that “we shouldn’t put the values from our modern world onto the past.”            








The Impressionists (2008)

This is one of the most gorgeous films I’ve ever seen!  (It ranks up there w/ A Walk in the Clouds, which Rogert Ebert praised as the “type of movie you’d want to live in.”)  It’s actually a 3-part miniseries, has a strong ensemble cast, and is a true story. 

The elderly Claude Monet (Julian Glover) talks about his life, and that of his fellow Impressionist painters, to a reporter.  The younger Monet (Richard Armitage) left home, served in the army, then went to Paris to study.  At the school, he met the wealthy/jovial Renoir (Charlie Condou) and doctor-in-training- Bazille (James Lance).  They chafed against their “old school” teacher’s methods and eventually went off by themselves to paint.  As we know, Monet was inspired by the outdoors (nature) and always sought to “capture the light.” 








The young artists deal w/ money troubles, various romances, government art critics (that seek to protect the image of “good art”), and their own frustrations.  There are stories about quirky painters, such as Cezanne- a hermit who’s actually from a wealthy family.  There are interesting tales behind famous paintings.  Did you know that the woman in the green dress became Monet’s first wife?  He approached her in the marketplace and asked to paint her portrait. 

Monet’s second wife (played by Amanda Root) was the former wife of his benefactor.  At first, she didn’t see what was the big deal about his work- LOL!  One reason that I liked this film was that two of my fave actors were playing a couple.  (Below is an Impressionistic promo pic w/ RA and Root.) 







If you haven’t yet, watch RA and Coyle together in the 2004 BBC miniseries North & South!  Here is a short clip:

You can watch the entire film here:


“Wives and Daughters” (BBC – 1999)

No character is one-dimensional in this miniseries (adapted from Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel) except the elegant and self-absorbed Mrs. Kirkpatrick (Francesca Annis).  A respectable and hard-working Scotsman, Dr. Gibson (Bill Paterson), marries the social-climbing former governess after living many years as a widower.  This surprises his devoted 17 y.o. daughter, Molly (Justine Waddell), and his friends/neighbors in their small southern English town.  Hyacinth Kirkpatrick has a daughter a bit older than Molly- Cynthia (Keeley Hawes). 

Though close in age, girl-next-door Molly is a total contrast to vivacious Cynthia.  When Cynthia arrives, “it’s as if Marilyn Monroe is has come to town,” comments Hawes on the special features of the DVD set.  Despite their obvious differences, the teen girls become good friends.  Cynthia and her mother don’t see eye-to-eye.   The new Mrs. Gibson doesn’ t want the girls to be “out” in society w/ those who are “course” to her eyes.       

Molly is upset by her step-mother’s snobbish behavior.  She’s very close to the Hamleys, an unpretentious/good-hearted family in the neighborhood.  Squire Hamley (Michael Gambon) doesn’t have posh manners; he’s a country farmer who speaks with a broad local accent.  His well-born wife, Mrs. Hamley (Penelope Wilton), is very kind to Molly.  Both ladies are avid readers.

The Hamleys have two sons in their 20s, poetry-writing Osborne (Tom Hollander) and scientific Roger (Anthony Howell).  Molly thinks Osborne sounds very interesting at first, but becomes good friends with Roger.  She even becomes interested in his research.  But when Roger spies Cynthia, his passionate side comes out!   

At the center of the story is the wonderful father-daughter relationship between the warm-hearted, yet protective, Dr. Gibson and Molly.  “I think she [Gaskell] got that right- the Scotsman,” comments Paterson (who is Scottish).  They have been on their own for so long, you can feel for Molly when a new woman enters the scene!  But the main reason Dr. Gibson remarried was to give Molly a mother.

Molly, like her father, is very concerned for her neighbors and speaks her mind.  Dr. Gibson rides off to see his patients at all hours; Molly checks in on the Hamleys when they’re having troubles. 

Though this is a Victorian story, there are dark undercurrents present.  The seemingly carefree Cynthia shares a secret with a handsome/mysterious land manager, Mr. Preston (Iain Glen).  Molly is puzzled by Cynthia’s strange reaction when he makes a social call at their house.  Her stepmother shares a past with Mr. Preston, some of the local gossips remark. 

Gaskell recognized that men and women (even in a quite conservative/corset-bound society) could become friends and share common interests.  Molly and Roger are both caring, observant, and intellectually curious individuals.  Out of such a friendship, a romance may develop.  These days, don’t many people hope to marry their best friend?

“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!