Studio: BBC Warner
DVD Release Date: November 15, 2005
Run Time: 233 minutes
DVD Release Date: November 15, 2005
Run Time: 233 minutes
As the daughter of a middle-class parson, Margaret Hale has enjoyed a privileged upbringing in rural southern England. But when her father uproots the family, she is forced to a new life in Milton - a northern mill town in the throes of the industrial revolution.
Margaret is shocked by her new surroundings. Appalled by the dirt, noise and gruffness of the people of Milton, she saves her greatest contempt for the mill-owners. When John Thornton, charismatic proprietor of Marlborough Mills, becomes a "pupil" of her father, she makes her distaste for this vulgar and uneducated new class abundantly clear.
Over time, Margaret's attitude towards the mill workers begins to change and she joins their workplace struggles against poverty and disease. But will she ever change her view of their employers - in particular, one who has secretly become her admirer?
As I've traveled through blogland the last several weeks, I've seen a lot of talk about this series - Dev, KristieJ, Sula - and I was immediately intrigued. Having loved the infamous BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice" with Colin Firth, (and later the version with Kiera Knightly), I just had to watch this. So I put it at the top of my Netflix queue.
Only, the plan I'm signed up for is one DVD at a time, and well, it's a 2-disc series. Argh! When I received it on Thursday, I knew I couldn't watch it the first disc, then wait several days for part 2. So I did what any sensible person would do: I went to Blockbuster Friday evening after work to rent the entire series.
Only Blockbuster didn't have it - damn them. I decided to keep looking, since my plans for the weekend included indulging in this movie at least once. So I tried Wal-Mart, knowing better but being lazy since it's close to my house. Well, no go. Not surprised by this. So I then drove over to Borders. Went upstairs to the DVD section and headed for the computer to look it up. Yep, there it was - "North and South", in: British Television, Drama. Most Likely In Store. Yes! Headed over to the British t.v. section under "N". No "North & South" DVD. Went back to computer, tried to print store location. Printer error. Memorized "British television: Drama". Headed back to section. NO DVD. Looked in M, O, A, Z...the whole entire British television section. Including musicals. Nada. Once again headed back to computer, why I don't know but obviously I must have read something wrong. "BRITISH TELEVSION: DRAMA. MOST LIKELY IN STORE. Wanted to cry. Okay, not really, but maybe stamp my foot. Decided to go to the customer service desk to see if another Borders store had it, and as I turned around and glanced at the general Drama section, there it was! Staring right at me, like it was waiting for me to find it. YES! Obsessed much? Maybe, but hey, I got the DVD, so at this point, what do I care?
And let me tell you straightaway, it was well, WELL worth the aggravation I went through to get the whole series. Those of you who've seen it will not be surprised by this. Those of you who haven't seen it should take this opportunity to get your hands on a copy as soon as humanly possible.
As Dev, mentioned, it is visually stunning, from the first when we see Margaret at her home in rural England, to the vividness of the "snowy" cotton mills and grimy living conditions in Milton. I loved way the characters articulated, their accents, their mannerisms, which were so suited for the characters they played. It's amazing how significant a handshake or a look can convey so much, and that's one of the reasons this movie is so wonderful. Subtle and beautifully romantic.
For the most part, I liked Margaret Hale right from the start. She is not afraid to speak her mind, and though the move to Milton is not something she is looking forward to, especially once she realizes just how different it is from her home in southern England, she nevertheless accepts her new circumstances and does what she must, rather than wallowing in self-pity and throwing tantrums. Margaret is not afraid to jump in and get her hands dirty. In fact she very much seems like the type of young woman who needs to have a purpose, one with meaning.
There are times when she blunders through the proper etiquette, never meaning to give the wrong impression, and accepts when she is wrong about things. Occasionally she came across as a little condescending and "full of airs", but I don't think it's done with the belief that she is better than anyone else. She just thinks she's right based on what she knows. And she's a caring person, one who feels compassion for others. She goes out of her way to befriend Bessie Higgins, a mill worker who is sick from poor working conditions, and makes regular visits to her family's home. One thing about Margaret is she's not afraid to work at something, or to reach out to people. I really liked that about her. She is also a very strong person, experiencing the tragedy of losing a loved one more than once, and she carries on and does what she must. She is definitely a person others can lean on and Margaret never feels that this is a burden she must endure. I admired her strength.
John Thornton took a bit longer to warm up to. When we first meet him, he is overseeing the workers in his mill, and he comes across as cold and harsh. When Margaret first meets him, he is beating one of his employees, and he seems cruel and unforgiving, but soon thereafter we get to see John with his family, and listen to him as he meets with other mill owners, and you begin to realize just how conscientious and caring a person he is. He has no wish to endanger his employees, or to participate in risky ventures that may cause him to lose the mill. We also learn that just because he is a master and owner of Marlborough Mill, it doesn't mean he is made of money, despite how it may appear to those who work for him. One of the biggest revelations comes later, when Nicholas and John realize just how the other side actually lives, and this is when the two sides slowly begin to work together to resolve their differences.
Once John becomes Mr. Hale's pupil, he and Margaret cross paths more regularly, and while he starts to develop romantic feelings for her, she cannot accept that he is anything other than the horrifying tyrant she saw that first day. John is unsure of himself when it comes to Margaret, believing that a woman like her could never have him, and I found that to be so endearing. John really is an honorable man, someone who puts the needs of his family before his own, and someone who works twice as hard as any of his employees. [And was it just me, or did anyone else find that he reminded them of Hugh Jackman from "Kate and Leopold" in this movie? I couldn't get past that. Not that I'm complaining mind you, because I find both Hugh and Richard Armitage to be very attractive men. And near the end, when John Thornton smiles (something his character rarely does), he was like a cross between Hugh and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter)].
Before I continue, I cannot forget to mention Bessie's father Nicholas (who actually seems more like an older brother than her father) who befriends Margaret and her family, and later, Mr. Thornton. Like Dev, I also had a bit of a crush on him - I mean who wouldn't after the way he tries to help his fellow co-workers by fighting for a better life for them all, and later, when he takes in 6 orphan children and he swallows his pride to provide for them. Nicholas is rather heroic in his own passionate, determined way. I liked his character a lot.
Back to John and Margaret. Eventually, Margaret begins to see John Thornton for the man he truly is, and realizes that her life in Milton is the life she was meant to have all along, rather than one of idle pursuits. She lets go of the dreams from the past, and her previous perceptions of John and the mill, and begins to plan a new life, one with purpose. And that life happens to include John, if he will still have her. Oh let me just say those scenes at the train station are so, so wonderful, and I found myself re-winding a few times just so I could watch it, and fall in love, all over again.
I cannot conclude a review of this movie without mentioning that there are several similarities to "Pride & Prejudice" by Jane Austen. Written by Elizabeth Gaskell and first published in 1854-5, it was released more than 40 years after Austen's novel. And to be honest, there does seem to be both pride and prejudice in this rendition, and who knows, maybe it was written as a tribute to the classic. But though there are similarities, it is a stand-alone piece of work and really rather wonderful in its own way. I cannot recommend it enough. Nor can I watch it enough. I plan on doing so again later today. What a great way to spend a chilly and gloomy Sunday afternoon....