I remember the day I went to buy North and South at the bookstore, dear reader. I scavenged the movie section in vain for 30 minutes, only to be hopelessly disappointed when I couldn't find it. Then, in a delusion of desperation, I went to the clerk and asked if they had a copy of "North and South" in stock. Her reply, "Why would you want THAT movie." I gushed, "because it's a beautiful story with lovely scenery and John Thornton." She sneered, and said she was affronted I could think a movie about the horrors of the Civil War was beautiful. I stammered, shocked, we were not thinking of the same North and South, and before I could clarify it was a BBC miniseries about the industrial revolution and that I wasn't oogling 80's hair, the clerk was gone.
I left the store that day, embarrassed and without a purchase. Instead, I bought North and South 2 weeks later online and never looked back. Sometimes loving a little known movie here in the states can lead you to very strange conversations, or some shocking customer service. Its why only my really good friends, and you reader, know how much I love these classic stories turned into film.
And I must say, North and South is in a continual struggle with Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre for my top affections. However, around Thanksgiving the DVD begins calling me to watch it, begging me to return to the world of mills and trains and cravats. And I always give in. This year though, I thought you'd like to join me.
Now I won't be summarizing N&S like I've done with The Borgias, I'll leave you a little mystery if you haven't seen it, but I thought over the next 4 weeks I would share my favorite moments from each hour-long episode -- with photos.
When Margaret Hale gets married, she would like to just wake up one morning and walk to the church. Or so she tells the enamored Henry Linton at her cousin's wedding. And as Margaret leaves London to return to her home in the South, Henry follows--hoping that she will walk to the church with him one day. However, Margaret is shocked by his proposal and stammers through a graceless refusal of his hand.
I love the scenes between Henry and Margaret because you can see how dearly Henry does love the idea of marrying Margaret. She radiates strength and determination, kindness and an open heart that is as powerful an allure as hear beauty. Margaret would make a man of Henry. Her refusal is painful, more so for Margaret than for Henry, because she's the one so horrified at breaking his heart.
Furthermore, the lush green and gold of the scenes shot in Helstone provide a stunning contrast to the cool blues and purples we will face in Milton.
Mr. Hale is a man of his convictions. It is his quiet strength that his children have learned from. When he is challenged to reaffirm his faith in the Church and finds he is unable to, he takes his family to Milton for a fresh start. While Margaret is heartbroken to leave her life, she rises to the occasion, knowing despair and disappointment will help no one in this new place. While looking for a home in this new world of machines and dirt, Margaret meets Mr. Thornton, a wealthy mill owner whose hard life has taught him the virtues of perseverance and honestly; that doesn't mean his isn't still a little rough around the edges.
The whole point of these first scenes with Margaret and Thornton is to highlight the clashing nature of their willful personalities. North and South and all their values monstrously collide in their first--and subsequent--meeting.
And that face. You get to see Richard Armitage taking the title of sexiest costume drama male lead away from Colin Firth from the very first moment he's onscreen, overlooking a room dancing with warm snow.
Milton, despite Margaret's best efforts, is not Helstone, and her first months are spent struggling with Northern custom, speech, and social protocol. She struggles to befriend Mrs. Thronton and her daughter, understandably, and is surprised to learn Nicholas Higgins and his daughter Bessie tend to agree with the austere and ungentlemanly John Thornton. As fall sets in, Margaret finds herself unknowingly drawing and severing lines of friendship she'd be better off not to test.
Margaret is a stranger in Milton almost her entire time in the industrial town. She pays the counter revolutionary in their industrial revolution many times because their logic affronts her own. It is in these scenes she realizes her first impression of Thornton was very extreme and that her convictions are not so shining anymore in this smokey town.
Mr. Hale must find work in Milton, and he does so as a tutor and speaker. One of his first pupils is Mr. Thornton, who soon after his first lesson comes to tea. Margaret may look tired, but John sees only the sweetness of a Southern gentlewoman in her movements, and worries that he is the one boring her.
Does John Thornton love Margaret from the first moment he sees her? I argue yes. And the fact that she speaks her mind and is not afraid of him, only flames his love hotter. Margaret needs someone to embody all she hates about Milton, and -- unfortunately -- she chooses John to take her anger out on. She challenges his way of life as Milton itself challenges hers and he respond with abrupt honesty; as much as he would like to comfort her with sweet words, he knows no other way.
The first episode closes with Margaret writing her cousin and lamenting how lost she feels in Milton, and the industrial workers meeting - a strike of the union imminent. If heaven was Helstone, than Milton is hell and Margaret, strong as she may be, and try as she might, feels the powerful despair or her displacement.
The final moments of the first episode are striking. You see the overwhelming wonder that is the mill spinning cotton with what looks like snow falling all around. It is at this moment we realize the next 3 hours of our journey with Margaret is not going to be easy or simple. It is at this moment we're dealing with more than just a hate-love love story. And its going to be brilliant.