Drama Recommendations – North & South [BBC Series Review]

MINI SÉRIE BBC - NORTH & SOUTH - 2004

The BBC Series produced in 2004, comprising four episodes is a total delight to watch. This is a story that is sure to delight any romantic, any lover of old age stories and all the Pride and Prejudice lovers out there. It was by chance that I downloaded this series and once I started, I marathoned all four episodes in one night-regretting the headache in the morning, but not the blissful and loving aftermath of the series that was left behind. In the end, just to sate my curiosity and revisit the North & South vista, I read the original book by Elizabeth Gaskell.

The series introduces us to our two protagonists in quite different manners. We see Margaret Hale as a free spirited and sensible girl born and bred in the South while John is a mill owner in the North who supports his family and has made quite a name for himself since his father’s death in his early years. While Margaret and her mother are not happy with her father’s decision to move South, as a family, they support him and move, even though the change is drastic. While the South was a life of social gatherings and fresh air and the life of a ‘gentleman’, the North is rough, crowded and the change in lifestyles is a complete 180.

“I wish I could tell you Edith, how lonely I am… how cold and harsh it is here… Everywhere there is conflict and unkindness… I think God has forsaken this place… I believe I have seen Hell… And it’s white… It’s snow white!”

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Margaret takes an instant dislike to John Thornton when she visits him to discuss her family’s living arrangements and finds him beating one of his workers and throwing him off property after firing him from work. It is, as she says, not a gentleman’s way of doing things and John’s insistence about his behavior being rightful has her set in her dislike. And while John’s sister is quite a happy go lucky girl, not worried about anything except her wardrobe, his mother is a stern, watchful woman who is both proud and overprotective of her son. Needless to say, Margaret and John’s mother do not get along well either.

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John decides to study under Margaret’s father and becomes his first official pupil. Hereon, Mr. Hale realizes that while John’s methods are extreme, they are warranted and more than anything, John values the safety of his workers, and in the long run, the working of his mill. Resigned to her days in the North, Margaret finds comfort in writing to her friend Edith in the South and finds a new friend Bessy, a worker in John’s mill. She often visits Bessy and befriend Nicholas, her father, who is also a member of the Workers Union. She hears much talk of an impending strike, but the gravity of it does not hit until the strike is launched. Meanwhile, after a dinner party at the Thornton’s, she revises her opinion of John to a somewhat more positive degree. Unknown to her though, John seems to be falling for her.

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Weeks of strike continue to agitate the workers while the mill owners refuse to budge from their stance. It comes to a violent standoff when John brings in workers from Ireland and the local workers storm to his mill in a rage. Margaret, come to see John’s mother for an errand, finds herself caught in the battle. John witnesses her spirit firsthand when she is unafraid of the ongoing chaos and urges him to confront and negotiate with his workers. However, interceding in the proceedings brings an unwanted consequence when she is hit by a stone thrown by a worker and intended for John. John’s mother is mortified by her ‘bold behavior’ and the servants gossip about how Margaret seems to have set her sights on John.

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John realizes he truly loves Margaret and decides to declare himself to her but his mother stops him from going that very day. For a day more, she wants him to stay as just her son. He agrees and goes the next day. Margaret, meanwhile, is caught unguarded by John’s declaration and rejects him, immediately sorry at her unintended harsh manner. But the damage is done and John leaves.

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“I know I was not right for her. Yet I think of her more than ever!”

Time slowly passes. Whenever Margaret and John come face to face again, she finds herself glimpsing deeper into the man he is and realizes her opinion of him, and the life of North was much biased. Slowly, she begins softening to him while he grows all the more distant. Nicholas meanwhile, finds himself out of work after the end of the strike and at Margaret’s urging, goes to seek employment with John. While John initially refuses him, he changes his stance once he realizes Margaret has sent him.

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Margaret’s mother finds herself at deaths bed and calls for John’s mother to be a guide to her daughter once she is no longer alive. Matters are not helped when John sees her at the train station, hugging another person and later on finds her in a lie denying she was there. The person, unbeknownst to John is actually Margaret’s brother who is on the run from the law and she lies to the police for fear of her brother’s safety.

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Grieved by his wife’s death, Mr. hale goes to the South on a trip with a dear friend. However, already grieved by his wife’s loss, Mr. Hale does not live long and passes away on the trip. Margaret is now left all alone and her aunt comes to claim her and take her back to London with her. When meeting her various friends before departing from Milton, Margaret meets John and gives him her father’s Plato, telling him she wishes him well in everything. Watching her leave, John whispers to himself, “Look back. Look back at me!

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Months later, Margaret confides in her father’s beloved friend about her dilemma with John-how he must think of her now that he knows she lied, and he tells her of his impending departure to the South America where he plans to live out the rest of his days. He is leaving all his wealth to Margaret and although she tries to refuse, he gives her everything, including the ownership to the land of John’s mill in Milton. John meanwhile, finds his own financial scales constantly tipping downwards and finally has to shut down the mill and loses his house. Even as he stands in the silent and now empty place, thoughts of Margaret haunt him. Nicholas, before leaving on his last day of work helps clear out the misunderstanding John has regarding Margaret’s brother.

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While Margaret learns of John’s misfortune and travels to Milton to meet him, he takes a journey to Margaret’s old home in the South. At Milton, Mrs. Thornton chides Margaret for coming to gloat at the empty factory.

You once accused me of not knowing the kind of man I had rejected and you were right. But if you think I have come to gloat, that I do not keenly feel the loss of this empty place, then you do not know me at all!

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On her way back to London, however, her and John’s path cross at a train station when he is returning on a different train. He realizes she had gone to see him and she begins to explain that she had a business proposition-to invest her money in his mill. All the while she talks, he gazes at her most tenderly. Gathering her courage, Margaret kisses his hand. John takes her face in his hands and kisses her.

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Margaret’s travel companion and lawyer, Henry, who also has feelings for Margaret watches from the cabin in the train. When Margaret returns, he hands her luggage to her, simply saying, “Goodbye Margaret.” John, who was thinking that Margaret would return to London is overjoyed when she comes back to his side with her luggage.

“You’re coming home, with me!”

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The series name is a perfect depiction of what it constitutes-the contrasts between North and South in every possible manner and their subsequent residents John and Margaret. It doesn’t show any side as better than the other-just gives you the reasons why either is so and how neither is below the other or wrong in any way. The North was crowded, rough and non-submitting to South’s easygoing ways, and yet it prospered and its people had their own definition of their happiness. I’m not going to go into depth analyzing the aspects of the male-female dynamic in the society that was prevalent at that time, nor how the story delves into those dimensions. Even without going into such minute detailing, the story is one that can be enjoyed anyway! These kinds of stories all depend on one’s own perceptions and what moral you derive from the story. Plus, it gives new meaning to the phrase ‘Opposites Attract!’ and what a perfect ending!

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About hitomiakiko

Architect and Aspiring Writer

Posted on March 19, 2013, in Entertainment, Potpourri, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Love this series and your recap/review. Have you seen the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice series?

  2. This is one of my favorite BBC mini series!!! I loved the acting and the story and the cinematography. You really could see the major differences of the south country & the industrial north. I frequently marathon this on Netflix when i want an Asian drama break.

    • Same here! I literally fell in love with BBC after watching this and Sherlock! BBC makes amazing series. I havent used Netflix-not sure I can even, but I have it downloaded on my harddrive! ^^

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