Alright, Vintage HQ fans, confession time. We need to chat. It’s widely known that, in the world of romantic period dramas on the screen, Jane Austen is QUEEN. Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuassion…she wrote brilliant stories that have, miraculously, stood the test of time. Her works have been adapted, reimagined, fan-fictioned, you name it! How many other authors do you know that are even more relevant and popular TWO HUNDRED YEARS after their death? You just can’t beat her bodies of work…or can you? What does one do if they have come across a love story that moves them just as deeply as Pride and Prejudice (*insert gasp here*)? It’s shocking yet it is the overall consensus here at Vintage HQ and we feel the need to spend today giving another talented author her due…Elizabeth Gaskell. Elizabeth Gaskell is the woman behind several (lesser known) period drama favorites here at Vintage HQ (we have her to thank for Cranford and Return to Cranford starring a couple of our favorite Dames, Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins, as well as Wives and Daughters with Michael Gambon and Keeley Hawes) but the overwhelmingly popular vote of favorite Elizabeth Gaskell story is none other than North & South.
We feel like the easiest way of describing North & South is it being a bit like a marriage of the world of Jane Austen and that of Charles Dickens (we know…very different). Though the story is set a little later than Austen’s works it almost feels like we have taken a woman from a more Austenesque lifestyle (living a calm, countryside life yet being familiar with the likes of London society) and placed her right in the middle of a harsh, dirty, more Dickensian backdrop full of poverty and struggle.
Our leading lady, Margaret Hale, is uprooted from said quiet, comfortable life in Helstone when her minister father decides that his conscience will no longer allow him to continue preaching in his parish. He moves his family north to the manufacturing town of Milton and gets a job teaching. Although her mother has very low spirits regarding the move Margaret attempts to make the best of her new environment and tries to make friends but quickly learns that this place and the people in it are nothing like she’s ever encountered before. Early on in her attempts at helping her father find them a house to live in Margaret meets a mill owner, John Thornton. Although he’s attractive his quick temper toward his employees and lack of empathy toward them and their struggles immediately makes Margaret despise him. Mr. Thornton becomes a pupil and friend of her father, though, so she’s forced to see him often. In every encounter, however, Margaret and Mr. Thornton find themselves at odds…arguing…and struggling to understand each others’ very different ways and points of view.
Margaret eventually finds her place in the industrial town of Milton. She even befriends some of the local mill workers and quietly does her best to do her small part in helping with some of their needs without offending them. Things in Milton get even harder, though, when talks of a strike begin and more complicated when Margaret’s mother becomes ill. A man from Margaret’s past resurfaces and an unexpected death brings the police to her doorstep. How will it all end? Well, we’re certainly not going to ruin it for you! You’ll have to watch it and find out for yourself!
North and South‘s music by Martin Phipps is STUNNING and the cast is absolutely superb! Brendan Coyle (Downton Abbey and Lark Rise to Candleford), Tim Pigott-Smith (who, sadly, passed away last year), Sinéad Cusack, Lesley Manville (Cranford) and Anna Maxwell Martin (Bleak House, The Bletchley Circle, Death Comes to Pemberley) are a few stand-outs. And the casting of Margaret and Mr. Thornton…wow. The chemistry between Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage is absolutely INTOXICATING. This modern world we live in seems to be convinced that movies need to depict everyone jumping into bed with each other right away and showing EVERYTHING but they are so wrong! Part of what we love about period dramas is seeing people so restricted by the social constraints of their time and how it affects them and their relationships. There’s something so sensual in the act of restraint…how the tension can build and surface in so many subtle ways (a look or even a fight)…that can make any physical contact (like accidentally brushing hands when passing each other a tea cup or the ultimate, a kiss) so exhilarating and ELECTRIC! These two nailed it! And get ready…the last five minutes of the piece…absolute bliss (and, arguably, one of the best period drama endings on screen of all time).