North and South is a BBC mini-series period drama set in a fictional northern industrial town at around 1850. It is based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, but I hadn’t read it before, so I really didn’t know what to expect. From episode one I was drawn into the lives of the characters – I was amused, I was worried, I laughed and I might have shed a tear or two. This adaptation is a well-crafted one, the cast is terrific and so I can definitely recommend it.
Margaret Hale loves her home in Helstone in the South of England. But her father, pastor of Helstone, leaves the Chruch, as he has lost his faith over the last years. He takes the family up North into the industrial town of Milton. Margaret and her mother disapprove of their new home – it’s dirty, it’s loud and the people are so very different from the south… Margaret particularly disapproves of cotton mill owner John Thornton, who is a strict and principled master. But over time she must discover that north and south are not so very different after all…
To describe it in a kind of shorthand you could say it’s like Pride and Prejudice, only grittier. But I think it is much more than that. I love Jane Austen novels, but to put it bluntly nothing much happens. In North and South the action happens with a backdrop of industrial life and the union’s struggle to care for their workers. So in a way there is more going on and it doesn’t only look at the high society, but also the working class. The characters are all very clear cut and it’s lovely to watch their journey, as they begin to see more than just one side of the story.
I haven’t talked about the romance yet, but it does form an integral part of the series. Or a lack of romance, Pride and Prejudice style. You know they will be together in the end, but it does take time for the characters to see it. But that’s not a boring journey, but quite an emotional one. The lead actors are brilliantly cast in Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage. The other actors are perfect as well, but these two really carry the whole series. Despite being a period drama, their performance and some lines come across as very modern, but it never jars, but helps you get more involved with the drama.
For everyone who likes romantic period drama and has an affinity for the North this will be an enjoyable watch. But I would also recommend North and South to people who usually don’t watch this kind of series. It is modern in some ways and not tacky or cheesy in any way, but rings true. This is definitely one of the unsung gems of BBC productions. It’s not mainstream, but that makes it different and really special.