Favorite Romances: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Jaz on Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South:

In order to adequately express my thoughts on North and South, I have laboriously drawn it out on a paint program that took me six whole hours to complete:

The giant green thing, by the way, is not my torso, but a hideous green sofa I do not possess. Also, technically I’ve been watching all these films on my computer, since my DVD player broke down and I have yet to buy a new one.

Irrelevance aside, BBC’s North and South is a brilliant miniseries involving class warfare, fair employer/employee practices, living conditions among poor working classes, workers’ unions and – in the midst of all this – a budding romance. Not having read Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, I don’t know how it compares to the original text. So (obviously) I’m skipping my usual rant.

One of the things that struck me about this miniseries was the dramatic shift in color palettes after Margaret and her family move to “the North.”

Helstone, “the South,” consists of warm brown dirt paths winding among a verdant, sun-drenched landscape dappled with quaint cottages and yellow flowers.

In “the North,” everyone moves about on grey brick under a perpetually-overcast sky. Grays, browns and blacks close in on every side. No one smiles much; why would they? There’s no reason to smile.

I didn’t quite understand what it was Mr. Hale disagreed with theologically that compelled him to quit the vicarage and move to an unknown city. I’m hoping the book will shed light on this.

Nicholas Higgins is one of the first characters Margaret meets on her arrival, and the most honorable. He knows his own weaknesses and tries to improve on them, possesses a strong will and respect for others regardless of their status, isn’t afraid to be honest and direct, and helps any person in need. I sometimes wish she had stayed with him instead; Mr. Thornton, while handsome, romantic and open to change, is a little too temperamental for my tastes.

The casting is exceptional and the cinematography visually stunning and artful. Of all the miniseries, this is my favorite, for its plot depth, social issues, character development, visual artistry, acting, dialogue and romance. Long list, I know. But they all deserve a mention… as does Joy Joyner, the actress playing Fanny Thornton, who willingly supplied comic relief in an otherwise serious drama.

And getting to see Margaret and Mr. Thornton finally end up together at the end was totally worth watching the four hours in one sitting.

Liz on North and South:

I when tell someone about North and South I generally tell them three things: 1) This is a British movie and has nothing to do with the American Civil War series of the same name. 2) If Charles Dickens had written Pride and Prejudice, this would be it. 3) It is a fantastic movie. You should watch it.

Aside from the romance between Margaret and Mr. Thornton, the life and working conditions of factory workers during the industrial revolution makes North and South an interesting watch. Poor Nicholas and Bessie Higgins capture my attention almost as much as Margaret and Mr. Thornton. With likeable characters, a satisfying romance, plenty of plot twists, and a glimpse into a time and place so different from my own, the four hour length of the movie doesn’t bother me at all.

I only have one protest—Mr. Thornton is a little too violent. I don’t like to see the hero kicking a guy on the floor. Granted, cotton dust is an explosion hazard, so the danger everyone in the factory was in due to the worker’s lighted cigarette was real, but I think dragging the guy through the factory and tossing him into the street would have been enough. But life wasn’t pretty and genteel in “the North,” so I guess we can’t expect the hero from “the North” to be genteel, though he is handsome. Despite the violent outburst and being rude everyone now and then, Mr. Thornton is an admirable man—he works hard, cares about his workers, wants to improve himself, and loves Margaret and looks after her despite her refusal of his proposal.

What are your thoughts on North and South?

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