Show Me the Romance

No cherubs. No doilies. No crap.

Miniseries Review: North and South (2004)

North and South
BBC Miniseries, 235 minutes (4 one-hour episodes)

based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell

From the way people describe this story, you’d think it was called Pride and Prejudice and the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England. To a certain extent, that’s an accurate pigeonhole. The romance is of the “I hate him, I hate him, I hate him, oh crap I love him!” variety—one of my personalfavorites—and instead of satirizing society (Jane Austen’s forte), Elizabeth Gaskell goes after issues of social conscience, contrasting the stark differences between pastoral, agrarian southern England and the bustling, hardscrabble mill towns transforming the north of England in the 1840’s.

The Premise

When spirited middle-class southerner Margaret Hale (played by Daniela Denby-Ashe) has to move with her family to Milton, a sooty, every-man-for-himself northern city that’s nothing like the beautiful village she’s known all her life, she hates everything about it. The city’s dirty air hurts her mother’s health and the people are pushy and hard. To her, attractive mill owner John Thornton (Richard Armitage) epitomizes everything that’s wrong with the North, and when she befriends one of his workers, a girl whose health has been damaged in the mills, Margaret knows exactly who to blame. If you’re wondering how The Man could possibly be a sympathetic hero, all I can say is Gaskell knows her romance.

The Pain

A drab gray palette suffuses nearly every bit of the movie. You keep expecting spring to arrive, and with it some color, or flowers, or something, but it would seem that there are no beautiful days in the North.

The Payoff

Is John Thornton. He’s full of restrained passion and out-smolders Darcy, if you can imagine that. I highly recommend.

5 out of 5 Arrows

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