Review: North & South (2004)

North & South (2004)

Directed by: Brian Percival | 200 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Daniela Denby-Ashe, Richard Armitage, Sinéad Cusack, Anna Maxwell-Martin, Brendan Coyle, Tim Pigott-Smith, Lesley Manville, Rupert Evans, John Light, Pauline Quirke, Jo Joyner, Brian Protherhoe, Emma Ferguson, Travis Oliver, Jane Booker, William Houston, Ian McHale, David Crellin, Shaun Hennessey, Martin Walsh, Tim Faraday, nathan Magnanti, Caroline Pegg, Kay Lyon, Lucy Brown, Ben Crompton, David Fleeshman, Tom Charnock, Frank Lauder, Carl McCrystal, Will Tracey Richard Evans, Katie Wimpenny, Marc Finn, Angus Kennedy, Russell Mabey, Neil Alan Taylor, Matthew Storey, Spencer Wild, Isabel Pollen, George Potts, Jane Cameron, John Finn, Simon Cassidy, Elianne Byrne, Emma Ashton, Rae Kelly, Holly Scourfield, Martin Henshell, Sam Chapman, Philip Ralph, Karl Haynes

Whoever thinks of the title ‘North & South’ will quickly think of the large-scale 80s series with Patrick Swayze in the lead role, in which the American civil war is central. But what many do not know is that there is another series under this title, namely the BBC film adaptation of the Victorian book (from 1854-55) by Elizabeth Gaskell.

This 2004 four-part series is a masterpiece that fans of British costume drama are sure to know. In fact, there is a large group of hardcore fans who know the series through and through, discuss every detail endlessly, write fanfiction, post fan videos on YouTube, but most importantly main character Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) adores. In short, ‘North & South’ has become something of a cult series that fans can’t stop talking about.

It is therefore a very good adaptation (by Sandy Welch) and is fantastic on all fronts. The story is set against a background in British history, namely that of the rise of trade unions, which gives the series a political twist. All this, however, is just the setting of a romantic story to feast on.

The main character in ‘North & South’ is Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe), a young girl from the fairytale-like south of England. She grew up with her niece Edith (Emma Ferguson) in London, where she often found herself among the rich. When Edith gets married, Margaret returns to her parents (Tim Pigott-Smith and Lesley Manville) in the south. But it soon becomes apparent that this will not be for long. Her father, who is a priest, has serious problems with his faith, and at very short notice decides to leave for the working class town of Milton, in the north of England, with his wife and daughter. In Milton, Margaret, who acts like a snob and doesn’t like workers and industrialists at all, meets John Thornton, a cotton mill owner who takes pride in his craft. But Margaret also just happened to meet Nicholas Higgins (Brendan Coyle), a worker from Thornton’s factory, and his family. She soon becomes good friends with his daughter Bessy (Anna Maxwell-Martin) and learns through them how badly Thornton treats his employees. Before she knows it, she finds herself in an increasingly fierce battle between the factory workers and a workers’ uprising led by Higgins.

Although there is a danger that a story like this can turn into a gooey, sentimental costume drama, it has not become that in the least. There is a lot of momentum in the series, the roles are perfectly cast, the acting is good, the costumes are beautiful, and the beautiful music by Martin Phipps makes the beautiful images even more atmospheric and dramatic. And those images are really beautiful: from the fairytale south of England, to the chilly, unhealthy north where the air is full of factory smoke, and the flakes of cotton material whirl through the air. The only downside of the series is that it may all be a bit predictable, but the series is so good that it doesn’t really matter.

‘North & South’ is a wonderful, romantic series, which has caused large groups of women (but undoubtedly also a number of men) to completely swoon when the series was first seen on television. This is British drama at its very best!

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