YES, ANOTHER PERIOD PIECE! DON'T YOU LOVE ME!? :-D
BBC's re-telling of Elizabeth Gaskell's novel is gorgeous as it is depressing. I haven't actually read any of Gaskell's work to compare how this adaptation translates, but I must say, if this isn't one of the most passionate stories of repressed emotion in times of hardship and distress, I don't know what is. Think of this film as 'Pride and Prejudice' only more realistic and much more depressing.
Enjoy it while you can, love.
Margaret Hale (a lovely Daniella Denby-Ashe) is a dreamer from the idyllic south region of England who values her freedom as well as her right to speak as well as her good manners. When her father decides to pick up sticks and head for the heavily industrial north, all of the colour and love is sapped from her world and replaced by smog, cotton mills and poverty. Things don't get any better when she meets the proprieter of the local mill, a dark, brtual man by the name of John Thornton (Richard Armitage in his break out role), as he's beating the crap out of a factory worker.
Margaret and her mother don't share Mr. Hale's enthusiasim for the culture of the north, and how could they? All it is is work, death and an absolute dirge of society where the only place fully open to the public is the cemetary. When Thornton strikes up a casual friendship with Mr. Hale, Margaret is forced into closer proximity with Thornton, a prospect that frightens yet intrigues her. At the same time, as she is gradually getting used to the north's oppressive atmosphere, she becomes friends with several of the mill workers, all of whom have a different opinion of Thornton... which of course gives Margaret second thoughts about the brute's character...
I think one of the many reasons why I loved this miniseries so much is that it doesn't travel the road most walked. I mean, this tale is set during the Industrial Era- people were working, but due to the poor conditions that many places had, they weren't working very well. This was also the beginning of forming unions, worker's rights and trying to form a better working environment, something that not all business owners wanted. What I also loved was that the two leads are not like Elizabeth Bennett or Fitzwilliam Darcy, they are more like real people in a real environment who feel real emotions, and it doesn't shy away from the fact that the consequences of every action they make has consequences. The only 'soft' sequences take place in Margaret's beloved south, but it is truly the north that draws you in. However, there is an almost epic love story here that will not make you roll your eyes. Although it is not in your face, there is a passion between them, that were it not for the fact they are worlds and manners apart to begin with, they would act on in an instant. This passion is repressed, but boy is it ever there. You want these two to end up together despite the fact each thinks the other is a fool when they first meet. And if you have seen this or read the book, you know it happens, but not without some serious screw ups along the way.
Naturally, we need human anchors in a production like this to make this love story work. Denby-Ashe and Armitage are more than up to the challenge. Margaret essentially is us, the audience, and we see what she sees, and what she sees influences what we think. When she first sees Thornton beating that hapless worker, like her, we think he is some coarse creature, and as Margaret gets to know him, even if at first it is not volunatrily, as do we. Every scene they are in, they command, if not share with each other and their co-actors, and you feel you are seeing these people, not actors wearing wonderful costumes. For every sequence of the depressing state of affairs in the north, we are treated to ones of tenderness and sensitivity that are almost impossible to resist.
For those romanatics who are looking for another period romance to add to their collection, this may not be for you if you are all about dancing, gentility and light humour. If you are expecting something like this in 'North and South', you would be sorely mistaken (not to mention very misguided if you think every Victorian story has that stuff). This is one for romantics who don't mind that stuff, but are more realistic in their expectations. These are romantics who know that with with great passion comes great consequence, and 'North and South' fits that bill in spades. It hurts, but it hurts so good.