It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of wits and good sense must be in want of a Darcy (or to be more accurate, Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice). But there are only so many Darcys (and library copies of Pride & Prejudice) to go round. So, if you’ve watched this BBC miniseries so often you can recite it line for line and are looking for something new, I recommend North & South.
North & South can best be described as a Victorian Pride & Prejudice, but the central romance is laced with powerful and interesting social commentary. Based on the 1855 novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, it tells the story of Margaret Hale, the daughter of a middle-class vicar, who, used to a privileged, slower pace of life in rural southern England, is suddenly uprooted when her father suffers a crisis of faith and gives up his livelihood. He moves his family to a dreary, smoky northern mill town trying to find its feet as the industrial revolution marches onward, but Margaret cannot see beyond the noise, the smell, the dirt, and the conflict between “masters and men.” When she meets the handsome, charismatic mill-owner, John Thornton, North and South collide.
Margaret struggles to come to terms with her new home and feels nothing but contempt for the greedy, ambitious mill-owners, including Thornton, who is one of her father’s new students. Thornton is instantly attracted to the strong-willed and outspoken Margaret, but she is unable to hide her repulsion and disdain for his work and the way she mistakenly believes he treats his employees. Gradually, Margaret’s attitude towards the town and its inhabitants changes, as she becomes friends with the mill-workers, including a local union leader and his daughter. But as Margaret becomes more invested in their lives, the strife between the mill-owners and their workers culminates in a crippling strike, the consequences of which affect every member of the town. Even as Margaret’s opinion of the town and her new life changes, she remains stubbornly prejudiced against mill-owners, and one in particular. Like Lizzy Bennett, it is only later, when the strike and the events that follow threaten to keep the two apart, that Margaret finally begins to recognize the integrity, strength of character, and value of the man she has rejected.
North & South stars Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret Hale and Richard Armitage as the brooding hero, John Thornton. It also stars Brendan Coyle (currently onscreen as the self-sacrificing Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey) as the union leader, Nicholas Higgins. The screenplay was written by Sandy Welch, who also wrote the 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre (with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens) and the 2009 version of Emma (with Romola Garai).
Anglophiles and fans of high-quality BBC period drama, such as Downton Abbey, will fall in love with North & South. Like any good costume drama, it is full of simmering passion and smoldering sexual tension, where one glance, one touch, can carry the weight of a thousand words.
Check the WRL catalog for North & South.