October 2, 2011

P & P and the Industrial Revolution



Having loved the BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters, I was excited when I saw that North and South was available for streaming in my queue.

North and South is very much like the beloved P & P (that would be Pride and Prejudice) set during the industrial revolution. The Elizabeth Bennet here is Margaret Hale, a woman from the south of England who moves to a fictional northern England town called Milton with her family. Coming from the gentile and pastoral town in the south, the family struggles to cope with the more industrial ways of the north. Margaret meets John Thornton (Mr. Darcy of this series), an owner of a cotton mill. Mr. Thornton becomes a good friend of Margaret's father but dislike has already set in during their first meeting when Margaret witnessed Mr. Thornton's severity to one of his factory workers. Margaret soon develops a friendship with Bessie Higgins, a the factory worker and daughter of a union leader further putting a wedge between Thornton and Margaret. Furthermore, Thornton's mother (Sinead Cusack) and sister Fanny (Jo Joyner) have always looked down on Margaret's middle class family. Despite their obvious attraction to each other, stubborness and misjudgements drag out their love over various events.

Daniela Denby-Ashe plays Margaret Hale (she reminds me of Kendra Kassebaum only brunette) as very subdued and sympathetic. Richard Armitage (soon to be Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobit) is a scowling John Thornton (compared to a brooding Mr. Darcy!) but he does soften quite a bit as the series progresses and you discover about his sense of responsibility towards his workers. Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey) plays Nicholas Higgins the union leader who eventually befriends Mr. Thornton. The whole cast is perfect in their roles and the writing is very detailed and characters are so layered it's so compelling. Plus, with the BBC's reputation of being true to the period, the set as well as the costumes make this series a joy to watch much like P & P with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

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