North & South (2004) is a social drama about differences in gender and class. The movie is also an exploration of the rise of the Industrial Age and its continuing effects on the economy of Great Britain, the people, and the environment. The story also describes a cultural clash between the industrial North represented by John Thornton and Margaret Hale`s rural South. The work of director Brian Percival, screenwriter Sandy Welch, and producer Kate Barlett seems to be exemplary as they made a good adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel. Despite various criticisms, North & South is one of the best programs that aired on television during its period.
North & South (2004) is an adaptation of a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell that narrates about the cultural clash between the industrial North and the pastoral South of England in the 1850s. The miniseries tells the story of Margaret from southern England. She is a well-to-do young woman who moves to the North because her father decided to leave the clergy after being perceived as a church dissenter. The Hales family found a home in the city of Milton with assistance from a family friend called Mr. Bell. In Milton, the family ends up struggling as they try to adjust to the customs of the industrial town, especially after they had a meeting with the Thorntons, a family that owns Marlborough Mills, a cotton mill in the area (Percival).
In another essential plot, the miniseries describes an epic love story of Margaret Hale and John Thornton. Margaret meets John Thornton when she moves to the impoverished town of Milton after her father leaves the church. Margret first sees Thornton when he is severely treating his worker. She misunderstands him, thinking he is cruel and does not treat the poor with respect. On the other hand, Thornton gets attracted to Margaret despite her disdain for his behavior. The romance between Thornton and Margaret develops slowly as they come to know each other well. The issue of gender and class is explored in the story as Margaret’s sympathy for the mill workers conflicts with her attraction to Thornton (Percival).
One of the most remarkable scenes of North & South is where John Thornton moodily walks through a cotton mill as the cotton swiftly blows past him. Also, the cast was outstanding as there was Richard Armitage who was John Thornton, Daniela Denby who took the part of Margaret Hale. The cast was great since Richard and Daniela had the perfect talent and chemistry to develop on-screen magic. The two were able to work off each other with intelligence, wit, and passion, encompassing their iconic characters with a combination of classic sensibility and modern sense. They understood the essence and importance surrounding the period of the story while being aware of their modern audience; which is also due to the direction of Percival.
The TV series also clearly portrays the real England villains, being the ”extremists.” Especially the Abolitionists who are represented not by Harriet Tubman or William Lloyd Garrison but by the demented sister of George, Virgilia (Kirstie Alley), who continually insults guests by shouting things that tend to demoralize slave owners as she equates them to “whoremasters.” Virgilia even goes ahead to marry a black man, giving the story momentous sexual twist to politics. Virgilia ends up as a wandering bag lady, punished for her social transgressions.
Another favorite aspect of the story is, of course, the romance between Margaret Hale and John Thornton. It is adorable how Richard Armitage pulls off the smolder. The longing stares of the two lovebirds seemed to last for an entire scene. Besides, the romantic declarations, the brush of a hand, and the heated arguments made this romance astonishing. What`s more, what makes the story so memorable, is the fact that it’s not merely a depiction of love. The romance may be profoundly depicted, but there are essential subplots and social commentary that make the romance more epic and the general story stronger.
Simon Elliot, the production designer, did a first-rate job by recapturing the essence of Britain in the early 1850s. Mainly, I applaud Elliot`s decision to use different parts of Edinburgh in place for Milton. It was wise because the metropolis of Scotland retained most of its buildings from the industrial era of Victoria. Elliot hard work made him receive a British Academy Television Award nomination for Best Production Design. Greenhalgh’s photography captured the mood of the period as it also used different colors to distinguish the series` three main settings – the Northern industrial town of Milton, London, and Helstone in Southern England. The costumes designed by Mike O’Neill suited each character`s personality, their circumstances throughout the story, and the entire period (Connor 34). Besides, the production touched upon the differences between the wide crinoline skirts of Fanny Thornton and the more subdued ones of the Hale women – pinpointing the three female characters` financial differences, together with that of their families. The score of Martin Phipps was also beautiful and memorable.
However, it is sad how in late Episode 3 and Episode 4, the miniseries centered on its pacing. The miniseries could benefit from an insightful and unraveling fifth episode. The series seemed to display too many deaths and other depressing incidents during the period of the story for two whole episodes. The two last episodes also contained too much content that included – the deaths, Thornton’s friendship with Higgins, the marriage of Fanny Thornton, Thornton’s financial crisis, the legal problems of Margaret, her reunion with members of her family, and the reunion of Frederick Hale’s with his family. I suppose it is wise to blame Gaskell or her author Charles Dickens for what seemed to be a rush to conclusion. Hence, I believe that a final fifth episode could be adequate. Moreover, Welch introduced Latimer and Ann as additional characters. Latimer was a banker and the father of Ann. It seemed that Ann was to be used as Margaret’s rival for the romantic interest of Thornton; however, the rivalry never really matured.
Gaskell`s robust story framework supported by Welch`s period-perfect dialogue, a character-driven script and Brian Percival`s flashy filmmaking techniques make North and South more visually appealing especially to a modern audience. In fact, the miniseries is quite visually stunning and is enabled with the gorgeous costumes, the artistic production design, and the haunting cinematography.