February 22, 2012

North & South

Let me start off by saying, North & South is fantastic.  I'm referring to the BBC miniseries based on the book by Elizabeth Gaskell about the north and south of England, rather than the show about the American Civil War with the guy from Dirty Dancing.  It is the story of Margaret Hale, the daughter of a country parson who uproots his family from the south of England to move to the mill town of Milton, in the north. 

Margaret Hale
Margaret, played by Daniela Denby-Ashe, has lived in her southern English town her entire life, and the industrial city of Milton is a completely different world to her.  She has never before encountered mill workers or the merchant class who employ them.  Margaret didn't want to leave her home, and she has a difficult time adjusting to the people and customs of Milton.  One of those with whom she butts heads is John Thornton, owner of one of Milton's cotton mills.

John Thornton
Thornton is played by Richard Armitage.  (My fellow geeks will recognize the name as the actor who is playing Thorin Oakenshield in the upcoming Hobbit movies.)  Margaret doesn't think he is a "gentleman," she doesn't like how the workers are treated, and they pretty much fight about everything.  He thinks she is a snob who doesn't know how the world really works.  Naturally, this is just masking the feelings they are developing for each other.  Margaret soon makes friends with one of the men working in John Thornton's mill, Nicholas Higgins, and she becomes very close to Higgins's daughter, Bess.  Hey, Higgins looks familiar...He's Bates from Downton Abbey!  Well, he wasn't Bates when I first saw North & South, but he is now.  This friendship draws her into the plight of the workers and the drama of their plans to strike.

Wait, this isn't Bates, I mean, Higgins...
I need to mention that the story is very much not about workers being oppressed by capitalist mill owners.  John Thornton is a self-made man who is struggling to keep his mill profitable.  The problems between the owners and the workers are looked at from both sides here.  What goes on with the mill is only the backdrop to the story of Margaret and John.  And what a story!  They each have issues with their families and other potential love interests.  Their characters undergo significant transformations over the course of the four episodes, and Thornton shows there is a lot more to him than it seems at the start.

I don't want to give away too much by going deeper into the plot.  When I first saw North & South, I immediately thought, why haven't I seen this before?!  I'm a fan of Jane Austen, and I'd put this right up there with the Colin Firth version of Pride & Prejudice.  That is high praise coming from me.  Margaret Hale is outspoken and strong, in the same vein as Elizabeth Bennet.  John Thornton is also similar to Mr. Darcy.  He makes a terrible impression at first, but as you get to know him, and as he gets to know Margaret, not only does she bring out the best in him, but it is revealed that he was good at heart all along.  Also, you can probably tell by the fact that I have put four pictures of him in this post that I think Richard Armitage is pretty good looking.
This will be the last pic of Richard Armitage
North & South completely sucks you in.  At the end of episode two, you'll be yelling at the screen, "What are you doing?! ARGH!" just like I did.  Even the score is compelling.  There is one melody which will stick in your head for hours after watching it. I think anyone who likes Jane Austen or anything by a Bronte would like this a lot.  I'm not sure why this isn't more well known, but it deserves to be.


  1. Woah, I saw the US mini-series North & South in school but had no idea it was originally British. I must see it! Batesy was so dashing!

  2. The US North and South was based on the novels by John Jakes, not the Elizabeth Gaskell book. But you should still watch this! It's great, and it has Bates!


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