FanstRAvaganza 4: Re-watching North & South (Episode 1)


For Richard Armitage Week on the Web, I’m re-watching my favorite miniseries, North & South (BBC, 2004).   As I wrote before, I learned a little about it from the (many) YouTube fan videos created by its loyal fans.  Wow, I guess something about this film really touched people!  I saw it first in 2009 (Spring), not long after I’d moved to a city I didn’t know and had no local friends/connections (just like Margaret’s predicament at the start of Episode 1). 

The Backstory

Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) is looking back on the London wedding of her vivacious/blonde cousin, Edith, as she takes the train from Helstone (her home in the rural South- Hampshire) to Milton (a growing industrial city modeled after Manchester by novelist Elizabeth Gaskell).  We meet Aunt Shaw (a wealthy widow who was married to a much older man) and Margaret’s parents, the Hales (married for love).

You know, sister, sometimes I envy you your quiet country parsonage.  Now, Edith can afford to marry for love.

Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret Hale and John Light as Mr, Lennox
Henry picks a rose for Margaret

The older brother of the groom, Captain Frederick Lennox, Henry (John Light), chats with Margaret and compliments her looks, but she doesn’t notice.  (We can tell that he’s interested in her.)  They talk of the perfect wedding and Margaret’s love of her hometown.  Soon after she goes back to Helstone (bright/green/peaceful), Henry comes for a visit, much to Margaret’s surprise.  She is shocked when he proposes to her in the church yard.  Margaret (age 18) insists that she’s “not ready to marry anyone!”  Henry leaves, very disappointed, as he thought that she cared about him (as more than a friend).

Arrival in Milton

There will be no people like us there.

Mrs. Hale (Lesley Manville) is very upset and worried about going to live in such a strange place.  (It’s dark, gray, smoky, and bustling with people and activity.)  The Hales’ loyal housekeeper, Dixon (Pauline Quirke), empathizes with her mistress (who is in poor health).  Why can’t they stay “by the coast” (seaside) while Mr. Hale (Tim Pigott-Smith) looks out for a house?  But her husband insists that she come along.  Margaret tells her father that they should both go see the properties- it’s faster. 

Maragret is visibly annoyed when she overhears Mr. Thornton’s overseer (Williams) and another man (property agent) talking about Mr. Hale in a disrespectful way.  Williams doesn’t want to discuss rent of the townhouse with her, so she insists upon seeing Thornton.  She’s a bit surprised that Mr. Thornton’s house is right beside his mill.  After some minutes, Margaret gets tired of waiting, and walks into the mill.  

Meeting Mr. Thornton

Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton
Margaret sees Mr. Thornton for the first time

There is cotton fluff going all around- Margaret has never seen such a place!  The workers are busy, aside from one man, who is trying to smoke.  Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) sees him before he can light up and chases him across the floor.  In one corner, he gets hold of the man (Stephens), and starts punching him (very hard), while shouting about the danger of fire in a mill.  Margaret is horrified to be witnessing such a fight; she yells “Stop!”  Stephens begs for his job and cowers on the floor (with blood on his face).  Thornton kicks him and yells over at his manager: “Get that woman out of here!”  Margaret chastises the master for his behavior before she’s urged away by Williams.

I was angry.  I have a temper.  Fire is the greatest danger in my mill aside from-

Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton
Meet Mr. Thornton

I love how Thornton stands up straighter and puffs out his chest before Mr. Hale introduces him to Margaret!  (He wanted to make a good impression.)  She’s not happy to see him- her expression is one of disgust and disappointment throughout the scene.  But she is surprised when he (passionately) tells the story of the burning of a mill in Yorkshire the previous year.  And the voice- WOW!

Introduction to the Higgins & Thorntons

They don’t much like strangers in my house.

There is some class and culture clash when Margaret meets the Higgins.  (Class difference is still a common theme, even in modern TV/films from the UK.)  They will become close friends, though the Higgins are working folks and she’s a gentleman’s daughter.  Bessie (Anna Maxwell Martin) admires how Maragaret stood up to Thornton.  We learn it was her father, Nicholas (Brendan Coyle), who helped Margaret in the stampede in an earlier scene.

Our Milton craftsmanship can compare with the very best.

Well, that was an awkward tea!  Mrs. Thornton (Sinead Cusack) is very stern and humorless.  She says that her son is “sought after by all the ladies” in town. When Margaret smiles and gives a little laugh at that, she is offended.  Fanny (Jo Joyner) is hilarious (without knowing it). 

The Masters’ Dinner

Mr. Thornton at the mill owner's dinner
Mr. Thornton at the mill owner’s dinner

I do not run a charitable institution.  My workers expect me to be hard. 

This is an especialy well done scene!  The director and cinematographer work with light, shadow, and angles to cast Thornton as an ambiguous character.  We don’t yet know if he’s a good or bad guy.  We also learn a bit about the other mill owners, too, as they discuss “the wheel” and how they deal with their workers.

Tea with the Hales

Mr. Thornton admires Margaret
Mr. Thornton admires Margaret

Margaret is ironing the curtains.  Thornton smiles when he comes to the door of their house- love that!  He admires (checks out) Margaret as she pours him tea, but she remains stand0ffish. He tries to connect with her in this scene, but fails.  When Mrs. Hale talks about the new decor, he makes a comment on “Milton taste” and smiles over at Margaret. Again, no positive response from her.  But when he mentions the South, she gets ticked off, saying he “knows nothing about the South” and there being “less suffering” there than in  his mill.  Look at the (obvious) disappointment on his face! 

I do know something of hardship…

But things really get serious (we are more drawn in) when Thornton tells the story of his past.  Notice the change in his posture, voice, and expression with each sentence- just subtle/superb acting!  The Hales are silent and admit to being taken aback by his (emotional/forthright) disclosure.  Mr. Thornton is reading the great books and discussing them with Mr. Hale to improve his education (which was abruptly halted as a boy). 

Margaret, the handshake is used up here in all forms of society. 

Mr. Thornton is offended when Margaret refuses to shake his hand.  He wanted to leave her with a positive impression. 

The Meeting of the Millworkers

Nicholas rallies the men (from different mills) at the Lyceum Hall for the first time.  (Mr. Hale said they could meet during his lecture time.)  Boucher, who has a wife and six young children, speaks his concerns.  The strike fund can’t help men like him, he thinks.  They millworkers are not striking yet, but need to be ready for the future.

Conclusion of Episode 1

Stephens comes back to Marlborough Mills to beg for his old job, saying he can act as a spy and find out what the other workers are up to.  Thornton yells a him and shoves him out.  Part of this encounter is witnessed by Margaret and her father, who don’t approve of such harshness.  Margaret wishes she could tell Edith how she really feels- she’s “lonely” and Milton is “hell.”

Richard Armitage Week on the web

First Proposals: Pride & Prejudice/North & South

Seeing the Darcy vs. Thornton post (thanks Maria!) made me think a BIT more about their respective stories, esp. how they go about proposing to their ladies.  Let’s watch the one from P&P first with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.

Well, they both look pretty awkward- Lizzie is wondering why this insufferable has come to see her in the first place and Darcy is at a loss for a moment (he’s probably never proposed to any woman before).  They are in a little sitting room in Charlotte and Mr. Collins’ house.  Notice how Darcy leans forward a tiny bit (hopeful) after he says “But it cannot be helped.”  After Lizzie calmly/coldly rejects him by saying that she doesn’t even feel “a sense of obligation,” Darcy looks confused/hurt (see the eyes), then turns away and walks over to the mantle.  His head is lowered and he’s thinking of what to say next.  He even wipes at his mouth, disconcerted. Then he addresses her again, asking why he’s rejected in this manner.  Lizzie, who still sits, speaks more loudly and w/ emotion as she mentions her sister ‘s (Jane’s) happiness.  Hear how Darcy’s voice rises (sharply) when he hears Wickham’s name.  He says: “You take an eager interest in that gentleman’s concers?”  Lizzie’s voice also gets louder as she speaks of Wickham. Darcy is sarcastic re: Wickham’s “misfortunes.”  

As Lizzie continues, he paces a bit about the (small) room, pauses, then asks “And this is your opinion of me?”  (He’s being misunderstood, we later learn.)  But when he aproaches her and disses her family connections (in a direct/rude way), you can see the anger on Lizzie’s face even more than before.  Her face gets redder, she gets up from her chair, and turns away from him.  Then she turns around and attacks him, saying that he “was the last man on Earth” that she “could ever possibly marry.”  There is nothing like love/admiration/anything positive in Lizzie’s eyes!  She is quite bold (for her time) and expresses herself directly.  The day is sunny, we can see, but the mood is quite stormy inside.  Darcy quietly says that “you’ve said quite enough. madam” and quickly finds his exit.  (Note the formal manner he uses as he leaves.)  Elizabeth is very surprised and quite angry (still) after he leaves.     

Now, let’s look at the proposal (extended version) from N&S, Ep 2, with Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage. 

Mr. Thornton is looking toward the door, then out the window of a small room in the Hale’s home (townhouse).  He looks nervous as he crosses toward the door when he hears Margaret open it.  We notice that her expression is sad/dejected (maybe also tired?); even her posture is poor.  The room is not bright or cheerful, but there is some light coming through the curtains.  Margaret doesn’t look at him at first; he mentions the color of the fruit.  Then she talks about her mother and looks over at him.  But as she talks, she keeps her eyes mostly downcast, avoiding his eyes.  Her voice sounds young and her words are hesitant.

When Thornton expresses his gratefulness, her face changes quite a bit (eyes wider).  She stands taller and goes over to the window, saying she’d “have done the same for any man” who was in danger.  Thornton looks confused and repeats “Any man?”  Then they go on about the mill strike and the workers’ (violent) behavior.  Notice how Margaret speaks quite calmly and steps closer to him (while she offers him advice about his workers).  He cuts her off with: “They will get what they deserve.”  Then the mood of the scene, as well as his tone, shifts.

Thornton is hesitant to begin; he expressly (but humbly/quietly) states that “I know, I’ve never found myself in this position before.”  But just as he gets started (“my feelings for you are very strong”), she cuts him off!  She walks away (toward the window), saying that he “shouldn’t continue in that manner.”  The the whole “gentleman” deal comes up (big theme in this story).  That upsets Thornton, who shoots back that “I’m aware, that in your eyes at least, I’m not a gentleman.”  He asks why he is “offensive” (loudly) and Margaret goes off (loudly also), mentioning his status, sister, and mother.  “My mother?  What has she to do with this?” he asks (confused), leaning over the table.  Then she gets into the status/trade quagmire again, accusing him of wanting to “possess” her- pushing all his buttons.  “I don’t want to possess you!  I wish to marry you because I love you!” he exclaims as he (quickly) walks around the table toward her.  (Note the emotion in his voice.)  Margaret turns away and says that she doesn’t even “like” him.  She looks at him directly for a second as she says that. 

Thornton turns away, refers back to the fruit, then goes to the opposite side of the room (mantle).  Slowly, Margaret mentions Bessie, who is dying (“too much fluff” in her lungs).  Thornton sees that also as an attack upon him.  When Margaret tries to protest and calm him down, it doesn’t work (as he said before, he has “a temper”).  When she remorsefully explains that she hasn’t “yet learned how to refuse,” Thornton throws in some bitter sarcasm.  She goes toward him, but he turns away saying “I understand you completely.”  At the end of the scene, Margaret is sorry (I think) that she was so “blunt.”

Wow, so much going on in these two scenes!  (You need to watch them a few times.)  There are similarities and differences between these two (would-be) couples, as are obvious within these brief clips.  The “gentleman” issue doesn’t come up with Mr. Darcy since he doesn’t work, owns a huge estate in Derbeyshire, and is grandson of an earl.  Mr. Thornton, on the other hand, is a self-made man (and proud of it) who owns his own cotton mill; he is also a  magistrate (in role of modern-day judge) in Milton.  But when it comes to the ladies, he’s (admittedly) at a loss; his life has been “too busy” to think of such things.  He’s insecure approaching Margaret, partly because she’s the daughter of a learned (studied at Oxford) former clergyman and because he’s never felt this way about any woman before.  Remember how he confides in his mother, the night before he proposes, that he “daren’t hoped that such a woman could care for me?”   

Darcy, being of such high status (and with a lot of pride), feels that Elizabeth’s family are far, far beneath his sphere.  He discourged Bingley from pursuing Jane because of that reason (and also because he didn’t think she loved him).  Remember the “Towards him, I have been kinder that toward myself” line?  Ouch!  Admittedly, Mrs. Bennett, Kitty, and Lydia are no models of propriety, but the manner in which Darcy downgrades Lizzie’s relatives is very harsh.  Well, these gents just needed some time to learn and change their attitudes.  Also, the ladies needed to change as well, since they held such strong prejudices agains their suitors. 

In the book, Margaret feels that she’s not ready to get married, when she’s proposed to for the first time.  Recall that she was only 18 at that time, and didn’t feel any strong feelings for Henry Lennox.  She liked him as a friend, thought he was smart/clever, but that was about it.  As for Lizzie, she was a “sensible girl” in her father’s eyes, but she wanted to fall in love someday, too.  She never thought that Darcy would propose to her- she was “astonished” by the entire episode.  Wasn’t she just “tolerable” in his eyes?

I like both scenes- in the first one, I sympathized more with Lizzie.  But in the second scene, I think my sympathies switched from Margaret to Thornton, then back again.  It was more of a fight (in my opinion) and had more movement than the one in P&P.     

What did you think of these scenes?  Which do you prefer and why?    

Reblog: North & South (BBC)

I updated and posted my review of the minseries! 


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…

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