North & South - Season 01
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Based on Elizabeth Gaskell�s classic Victorian love story Independent-minded Margaret Hale (Rosalind Shanks, A Question of Guilt) moves with her parents to Milton, a manufacturing city in England�s north. Compared to the bucolic south where she was raised, Milton stifles Margaret with industrial smoke and soot�and she takes an instant dislike to John Thornton (Patrick Stewart, X-Men, Star Trek: The Next Generation), the ambitious and severe mill owner. But amid a workers� strike and family misfortunes, Margaret begins to reconsider her sentiments. Based on the celebrated novel by Elizabeth Gaskell (Cranford, Wives and Daughters), this classic BBC period drama depicts the tensions of the Victorian era, as traditional society clashes with the coming of the modern world. Both a slow-burn romance and a clear-eyed view of the Industrial Revolution, North & South captivates with a magnetic performance from future star Stewart.
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But not quite enough of that goes into the 1975 miniseries based on Elizabeth Gaskell's underrated novel about love and worker unions just after the Industrial Revolution. A pre-stardom Patrick Stewart makes a powerful and scene-stealing Mr. Thornton, with his booming voice and strong features, but Rosalie Shanks gives a relatively pallid and artificial performance as the main character.
After a decade living in London, Margaret Hale (Shanks) returns to the idyllic country village of Helstone to live with her parents. But then her father (Robin Bailey) declares that he is leaving the Church of England out of vague religious scruples, and is instead becoming a classical tutor. Unfortunately for Margaret, this means moving to the dirty, hardscrabble northern town of Milton, which contains several mills and manufacturing businesses.
Her father's first pupil is Mr. Thornton, who worked his way up out of poverty through brains and hard work, and now owns a cotton mill. Margaret soon makes a friend (Barbara Hickmott) who is dying because of poor conditions at the mill. So she blames Thornton, believing he's unfair and harsh to his workers.
And she's not the only one -- the dissatisfied workers of Milton have begun to rebel against their employers, forming a union and going on strike. Thornton finds himself in the middle of the conflict, even as Margaret struggles to help her ailing mother -- and despite being on different sides of the increasingly heated conflict, the two of them begin to fall in love. But misunderstandings, class differences and tragedy stand in their way.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As expected, the stage acting dated this production unfavorably, often making the portrayal of strong emotions seem melodramatic and having the unfortunate effect of preventing the viewer from totally immersing themselves in the evolving plot. The more nuanced and subtle portrayal of emotions we are accustomed to from current film actors seems much more realistic.
Margaret was very proper and rather reserved throughout, although she seemed overly effusive in the opening scene. I didn't get the strong sense that she was going through the most trying years of her life or that she was often put upon the brink of endurance.
Thornton embodied the energetic entrepreneur of the era and was a bit too prone to rushing his speech and losing his self-control in argumentative outbursts. Thornton of the book did not lose his temper in this manner. Also, it wasn't always easy to read this Thornton's body language for clues of how he was truly feeling. There were no unmistakable signs of Thornton's anguish, which is a vital and rather unique element in Gaskell's prose.
I believe I enjoyed most the characterization of Mr. Hale and Higgins in this adaptation. Both of these characters were much like the characters depicted in the book.
I didn't detect much depth of character in Hannah Thornton. She was too stern with Fanny, and not very gentle with the son she was supposed to adore. There was little hint of the tender-hearted mother hidden beneath the crusty mannerisms that Gaskell indicates in her book.
Henry Lennox was a fleeting mystery man. Who was this man who suddenly seemed to be to be hinting at marriage much to Margaret's obvious discomfort? We don't really know and we don't get to know him. Edith, likewise, was a cipher.
It was entertaining to see scenes from the book acted out that were not included in the 2004 version, most notably the post-riot carrying of the unconscious Margaret to the Thornton's drawing room and Mr. Hale's initial confession to Margaret of his decision to leave the Church. The final scene was also largely taken from the book, but I found it lacking in passion and meaning and quite unlike the mental image I've grown to cherish when reading.
There were delightful nuggets here and there when the dialogue sprang straight from the original Victorian text, including the exchange between Higgins and Thornton when the latter offers him work and parts of the proposal scene. For the most part, however, scenes and dialogue from the book are rearranged, amended and/or omitted to make the film version follow a shadow of Gaskell's basic storyline.
The greatest drawback in this production in my estimation was the bungling of the romantic storyline. There was no scuffle with Leonards at the train station, no police inspector, and no lie. Thornton did not get to save Margaret from the inquest. What were the writers thinking?! The omission of this noble deed, which acts as a catalyst for Margaret's character development, leaves the viewer wondering how, why, and IF Margaret is falling in love with the hero throughout the remainder of the film. I was sorely disappointed that this significant element of the evolving love story was considered expendable. It wasn't. The love story didn't really work in this adaptation. I didn't get it.
For those wondering how this production compares to the much beloved 2004 adaptation, rest assured that the modern adaptation remains the clear winner in capturing the passionate energy and basic integrity of Gaskell's extraordinary novel.
The '04 adaptation will always hold a special place in my heart, for it was through this production that I found N&S and Elizabeth Gaskell. Still.. that being said, you can't adore Gaskell's work without acknowledging issues that are present. The '04 production team took liberties and made changes they felt were necessary to making the story more appealing to modern audiences. Determining whether they were correct in making these changes largely depends on each viewer.
I do believe that this same consideration needs to be given to this production ('75) as well. Yet saying that this earlier interpretation follows more closely to the book is overstated. Yes this production includes more direct lines and some settings of the scenes appear more accurate, yet it also took liberties and had some troubling omissions, as well. Omissions of events that prove essential to the shaping and forward development of our heroine and even our hero.
As to the characterizations, I found them lacking as well. Rosalind Shanks comes off much to old for Margaret, who at the opening of the story is an idealistic 18 year old. I did like that Rosalind portrays the more demure side of Margaret's character but she fails to show the intelligent spirited side. Margaret is a beautifully weaved character with both independent and self sacrificial traits. A friend describes this portrayal of Margaret in this fashion, "I kept waiting for Margaret to awaken from her sleeping beauty haze."
Patrick Stewart is a talented classical actor with a strong theatrical flare. He brought this theatrical style to his portrayal of Thornton. It is this style that I struggle with the most. Much of the time, Stewart portrays Thornton's passion in bellowing and barking tones. Neither of which is consistent to the strong but gentle way Thornton spoke in the book. The '04 production is often criticized for it's blatant mischaracterization of Thornton's temper, and rightfully so. Yet in this production, Thornton's characterization is equally flawed. Though it's delivered in more subtle ways, Thornton is still portrayed with a short and sharp temper. This temper is thrust at Mr. Hale, Margaret, Higgins and even his own mother. And I wont even get into the mischaracterization of Hannah. All in all, I felt that all the actors struggle to portray the heart of their characters. Did Margaret actually fall in love with Thornton? It's hard to tell. Did Thornton love Margaret with every fiber of his being? Was he heartbroken when she left Milton for London? If so, there is little indication.
There has also been praise for the inclusion of several scenes, missing from the later adaptation. Yet even with these inclusions there were hefty changes that make little sense. This includes the ending scene. Though the setting is properly situated in a London drawing room, the heart and soul of the exquisite ending Gaskell conveyed was either completely changed or poorly delivered. It lacked the powerful under currant of passion between these two characters. The emotion is either not there at all or completely unbelievable!
Still in conclusion, as I stated above I can also honestly say that there are a few enjoyable moments in this production. It is why, even with all of my personal issues with it, I still encourage fellow fans to view this production. As to the purchase of the DVD, I advise that if you have the opportunity, watch the production first. Then you will know for sure if you wish to add it to your library.
This DVD set seems to hold a classic-like visual effect, having been done in a period of time when the BBC was excelling at converting fine literature into TV serials, as they were called then. Period costume drama never goes out of style.
SDH SUBTITLES have been added to all 4 episodes.
1- The love story unfolds in the countryside bliss of serene Victorian bliss. Margaret Hale (Rosalie Shanks), at age 19, hopes to commune with the common locals. Her Papa, clergyman Hale (Robin Bailey), determines to resign from the church. The Hales move in a fortnight to the industrial, dirty, Milton of the north. He'll serve as a private tutor to cotton-spinners. There they quickly meet the 1st pupil, Mr. J. Thornton (Stewart), a textile manufacturer.
2- A mill strike places workers, including the Higgins family in a desperate situation. Nicholas Higgins (Norman Jones- `South Riding') is a union man, against violence and lawlessness. Thornton intends to break the strike and union. Illness hits the Hale house, and maid Dixon (Peggy Ann Wood- "Lillie") must step somewhat aside.
3- A Margaret & Thornton encounter shakes them both. Frederick, Margaret's brother, is summoned due to his mother's (Rosalie Crutchley) health situation. But what of the legal charges?
4- Former union man Higgins meets with boss Thornton to ask for work. Margaret receives bad news. Life at Milton seems to be failing for many.
As a previous reviewer has mentioned this 70s production with Patrick Stewart and Rosalind Shanks does focus a bit more on scenes that were either totally omitted from the 2004 mini series or flat out skimmed over. As one may know this story is about a former Anglican minister who left the church from his idyllic country parish in the rich South and usurped his family to the North where he is to become tutor in a dirty manufacturing town called, Milton, where some manufacturers want to obtain a better education. A key student is John Thornton who falls in love with Mr. Hale's daughter, Margaret, but Margaret herself is subject to prejudice and misunderstanding towards any tradespeople. It is really Margaret Hale's story about her maturing to a better person especially when tragedies enter her life. Actually, "North & South" is a cross between Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.
SPOILER ALERT! One of the best scenes is the focus between Mr. Hale and his daughter when he explains why he is leaving the ministry even reading a passage from a book which is also in Elizabeth Gaskell's story. In addition, the ending is far more in line with Gaskell's taking place in London but the ending isn't quite faithful to Elizabeth's although to me it is far more romantic than 2004's version. However, some of the lines are a direct quote from the original story.
Yes, the quality of this 1975 serial is pretty good in both quality and sound. Even the outdoor scenes are a little better than other productions from early BBC but nothing really to totally wow anyone. Yet, my point is that it is relatively clean and easy to watch. There is even a warning stating that due to the age of the serial all the anomalies were not successfully taken out. I suppose that this refers to tiny green spots that are found in a few spots but not lasting more than a few seconds. Yes, there are subtitles for those in need of them.
SOME MORE SPOILER ALERTS! Having said the above, I did feel that this serial from early BBC felt a bit rushed to me. I know that due to a tight budget restraint some crucial scenes had to be cut. For instance, the part where Frederick and Margaret meet Leonards at the train station had been cut. That is, Leonards was never in the scene so it changes the feel of that scene to me although Thornton was there to see Margaret and Fred embrace. Also, some scenes were added which never existed. When the strikers break down the door to Marlborough Mills instead of the mother and daughter being in the back of the house they are in the same living room where John and Margaret are and overhear Miss Hale urging John to speak with the workers and hear what she says back to them. That sort of spoiled that moment although when Margaret was hit by a rock John does repeat some agonized lines directly from the book. "North & South" fans will squeal with delight or at least some who know the lines I'm talking about!:-)
All in all, if you are a fan of BBC or Elizabeth Gaskell's works I urge you to at least rent before buying. Some might be very disappointed and some might learn to like it. At least have an open mind about it.
I didn't think anyone could play Thornton better than Richard Armitage but Patrick Stewart gives him a run for his money! It always bothered me that they had the Richard Armitage version of Thornton beating a worker, which is totally out of character and completely made up - not in the book at all. That scene always nettled me. This 1975 version is much closer to the Thornton we all love from the book. The 1975 version doesn't do the agony of Thornton's broken heart so well though.
The other thing that always bothered me about the 2004 version (and this is heresy I know!) is the kissing scene in the train station at the end. Not only is this made up but come on! If the big scandal is that Margaret was seen embracing her brother on the train platform in Milton how much more scandalous would it be if she is making out with Thornton on another train platform? To me that is just a glaring error in the 2004 version. And while the kissing is nice and all, I vastly prefer the book's ending and the 1975 version sticks much more closely to the book in this regard.
Ok, two last pet peeves about the 2004 version that made me appreciate this 1975 version: Henry is portrayed here much better than in the 2004 one, where they really changed his character. And finally, there is no icky scene with Mr. Bell proposing to Margaret (another made up and rather weird addition to the 2004 N&S).
All the acting is very good in the 1975 series. I do think I appreciate the more developed characters of Mrs. Thornton, Dixon, and especially Nicholas Higgins in the 2004 version.
But I was very pleased by this one and will probably watch it multiple times. I recommend it!