Based on the book, “North and South,” by Elizabeth Gaskell
Version: BBC 2004, starring Daniela Denby-Ashe; Richard Armitage; Anna Maxwell Martin, Brendan Coyle
Genre: classic; romance
Plot Summary: Margaret Hale’s life changes abruptly when her father decides to resign from the church and move his family to a Northern manufacturing town to become a teacher. When Margaret’s mother becomes ill as a result, how will the family bear their ill fortunes? What will happen as a result of the recent millworkers’ strikes? And how will Margaret’s deep dislike for her father’s friend, Mr. Thornton, affect both their lives?
My Review: I read the book because my sister so wanted me to watch the movie (see my book review here). It seems everybody in the blog-world has been oohing and ahhing over the “North and South” movie (okay, Richard Armitage in particular). I’m one of those weird types who tends to not like something because everybody else does. I don’t like being of the herd mentality! But for the sake of this blog, I am trying to mend my ways this once and be open minded. My reaction is a mixed bag, as I thought it had it’s good points along with it’s bad ones.
I found the film to be a beautiful, romantic one full of haunting music, elaborate hair, and great costumes. It followed the book pretty well, but it did seem to rush the plot along quickly. My favorite part of the story (the dramatic scene of the mobs attacking the Thorntons’ house) was sped through so fast I blinked and almost missed it. I think the story would have been better served to make it into a longer film. As it was, I’m not sure I would have picked up on a lot of what was going on if I had not read the book first. That could just be me. Both my mom and my sister watched it without ever having read it, and they seemed to understand it just fine. I think that because the pace clip clops along so rapidly, it fails to involve me emotionally. I could barely care less when certain characters die and Margaret seems to be almost as unphased.
I liked the choices made for who played the main characters of Margaret and Thornton. It was refreshing to see a normal-looking heroine for once instead of an anorexic size-0. The pair seemed to go together pretty well. However, almost all the other characters felt miscast, with the exception of Mrs. Thornton (she was very convincingly played). And a lot of times I thought the characters were misrepresented or changed into something other than from the book.
For example, Dixon (film) felt too much like kind Peggotty from David Copperfield (actually, it was the same actress played both characters). Dixon (book) was older and more of a unlikable control freak. Henry is portrayed as being vastly disagreeable, but I’m not sure I got that impression in the book. Higgens (played by Brendan Coyle) was too much of a good-looking teddy bear, rather like Downton Abbey’s Bates. While reading the book, I’d imagined more of an My Fair Lady Mr. Doolittle character instead. And I began to be suspicious of Mr. Bell, as it seemed he had a creepy eye out for our heroine other than a fatherly protection sort of role. It turns out I was right, as Mr. Bell (film) admits he would have liked to have married her himself. Why couldn’t we just be comfortable with a nice, kind father figure?
I was glad to see they kept Mr. Thornton just as stern as in the book and didn’t try to sandpaper him down in any way. But I was a little taken aback by the way we are introduced to him. In the movie, he is seen bawling a man out and beating him half to death. I didn’t feel that to be quite in character with the person in the book. Bawling a man out who endangers others’ lives, probably. Disabling the man by a swift punch in the nose, perhaps. But not mercilessly beating him up.
There were some minor changes made in the movie that I thought improved the story. One is that Margaret actually goes to visit the factory mills and we get to see what the conditions were really like for the workers inside. I think it helped to illustrate in a way the book never could. I also like how the ending was changed slightly. Mr. Thornton is introduced into the story earlier than in the book, which helped to balance the plot a bit. Mr. Bell only mentions he is dying in the end instead of yet another character dying off. Frankly, I don’t think that story could take another funeral without it becoming comical.
The ending includes one of the loveliest kisses in cinematic history. I can understand why so many are “gone” on it! But at the end of the day, I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out what made Margaret love Mr. Thornton. To be fair, this is probably due to the fact that there is the same problem in the book as well. We can see through Thornton’s interaction with his mother and Higgens, and through his making improvements for his workers at the end that there is a man of character underneath his bulldog facade. But Margaret doesn’t get to see that. Immediately after turning him down, she wants his good opinion. I’m just puzzled as to what changes her mind. And just like in the book, I walked away worried over how Margaret got along with her new in-laws, as I can’t believe it made for much family harmony (seriously, Thornton is way too tied to his mother’s apron strings)!
I do think this story is in need of a remake. But as far as content goes, this was a wonderfully clean movie and was a nice telling of an old classic. I would recommend it to anyone!