North and South is a British television drama serial, produced by the BBC and originally broadcast in four episodes on BBC One between November and December 2004. It follows the story of Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe), a young woman from southern England who has to move to the North after her father decides to leave the clergy. The family struggles to adjust itself to the industrial town's customs, especially after meeting the Thorntons, a proud family of cotton mill owners who seem to despise their social inferiors. The story explores the issues of class and gender, as Margaret's sympathy for the town mill workers conflicts with her growing attraction to John Thornton (Richard Armitage).
No, this is not the 'North and South' that was on North American Television in the 1980's about the American Civil War, but a British adaption of a 1855 Victorian era novel by Elizabeth Gaskell.
I have not read her book, or any of her books. But I have seen the mini-series! LOL! (Wives and Daughters, Cranford) But this is my favorite adaption of her work.
No one can recreate the Victorian Age like the Brits, or adapt novels from that era like they can. Well, they live and breathe it still, even to this day.
This is a fascinating study on the British class system of the day (and still exists in a lesser way) Working in the mills, workers trying to form unions to gain some sort of rights in the workplace, but what is the heart and soul of this series is the romance between the two leads.
Richard Armitage as John Thornton is a revelation. A lot compare it to Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy in BBC's 'Pride and Prejudice' 1995 (Gah, was it THAT long ago?) Richard's looks are more severely handsome, and when we first see him on screen, he is harsh in his countenance, snarly even. But already, you get the feeling there is more underneath, the man fairly smolders. Richard immediately became a British TV heartthrob, and after watching this, you will see why.
He has typical British looks, the long angular face, the patrician nose, somewhat long in length, The eyes that are somewhat poppy, but with a devastating blue that can look right into your soul.
A deep voice with a killer accent. And he's tall, 6'2.
No, not classically handsome as such, but handsome enough, and Richard will melt your heart, nonetheless.
One thing I liked about this series it gave equal time between the two leads, so often like with Pride and Prejudice, it keeps the POV on the female almost exclusively. Here, we see John at work, the struggles of running a cotton mill, the workers going on strike, his home life with his mother and sister.
There are some genuinely touching moments between John and his mother, showing under that autocratic merchant/mill owner exterior is a tender heart.
He even indulges his silly sister when she begins to chatter, spouting pure nonsense. John is very orderly in his life, but that is soon turned upside down when he meets Margaret Hale.
I didn't know what to make of the character of Margaret right off the bat, we see her as a bit of a dreamer, turning down a proposal from a handsome, eligible man. She is living an almost idealistic existence, the daughter of a prominent Clergyman.
But that is all blown to bits when her father has a falling out with the church, and soon finds himself out of work. They head North, to the industrial heart of England where her father will take up the unlikely post of teaching philosophy to the great unwashed.
One of his first students is John Thornton.
Now living in reduced circumstances, the Hales try and adjust to this rougher, almost bleak area of Milton, where the skies are perpetually grey and smoggy, any greenery, non-existent. Mrs Hale is almost beside herself with grief at living in such a place. She is the epitome of the more genteel south, as is Margaret herself to a lesser degree. Margaret's first encounter with John Thornton is not a pleasant one. And it goes downhill from there.
It is very much like Pride and Prejudice actually, the seemingly mismatched couple, both stubborn in their own ways, misunderstandings abound. Then, halfway through, John does the unlikely, he proposes. He is soundly rejected, much as Mr. Darcy was. The rest of the series, is watching them both tentatively make their way back to each other.
But what makes this different from P and P,(which took place in the Regency Era) is the gritty back-story, the horrific working and living conditions of the workers in the Victorian Age, Margaret befriends a young woman who works at John's mill, Bessie Higgins, and her father, Nicholas Higgins, the gruff Union leader. It is quite an eye-0pener to Margaret, and shows her compassionate side here quite nicely. All the characters in this are richly drawn, from the workers at the mill to the leads. This is deeply emotional, and you will tear up in more than one place. I recommend this highly. I like this MORE than Pride and Prejudice, probably because the Victorian Era is my favorite.
I have included an edited version of the ending from youtube, it will give you an idea of Richard's appeal, however, if you have never seen this before, you may not want to spoil it for you. Though, you can guess they finally get their HEA. (Happily Ever After)
Also a tip, if you go to order this, do not get the North American Edition, it is edited for some bloody reason, 14 minutes or more shaved off. If you have a multi-region DVD player, order from Amazon.uk, that is what I do. At least you know they are not cut-up.
I give this series 4 out of 4 stars.