Friday, June 12, 2009

Must-watch Friday: North and South

I can’t believe that nobody has covered this one already. OK, so it’s a bit long to be a movie. It’s a serial.


Richard Armitage. That Kiss.

How on earth could this have passed by the PHS? (And how lucky am I that I get to talk about it?)

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? North & South.

I have to confess that I didn’t catch it when it originally aired on TV. DH isn’t into costume dramas (though he does usually buy me the DVDs later). And life’s been a bit of a rush, this last year and a half, so my couch potato time has been a tad squeezed.

But then earlier this year I went down with the lurgy. I didn’t even have the energy to move. So I curled up on the sofa with the dog and watched the entire thing. And it was FABULOUS. I can understand completely why it was voted Best Drama in the BBC’s annual ‘best of’ poll in 2004. (Three of the top five ‘favourite moments’ in the same poll come from the series. As did Richard Armitage as ‘most desirable drama star’ and ‘best actor’ (PHS fans and the RNA would agree there), and Daniela Denby-Ashe as ‘best actress’.) I was surprised it didn’t do better in the BAFTAs (one nomination, for best production design

It has the perfect ingredients for a romance:

  • a strong hero who needs to change to become whole (the role of John Thornton is played brilliantly by Richard Armitage – lots and lots of emotion)

  • an independent, feisty heroine (and the role of Margaret Hale is played brilliantly by Daniela Denby-Ashe)

  • multi-layered conflicts, including class (Margaret is from a genteel family in the south and John is second-generation mill owner from the north - but actually he’d count as self-made, because he’s the one who fixed the family’s ruined fortunes; plus she’s more highly educated than he is); ideology (he’s a mill master, she’s on the side of the workers); attitude (although they’re both plain-talking, he’s blunter and doesn’t give flowery speeches of love); and even the surroundings (the beautiful South, full of flowers, and the grim industrial North).

Not to mention the marriage proposal in the middle (which she rejects), the social upheaval when the town suffers badly in a strike (and they of course are on opposite sides), the confusion over her brother (she’s hiding him as he’s a fugitive, but John thinks he’s her lover), and the very clever way the social situation mirrors their romantic situation right down to the resolution.
Margaret thinks everything is better in the South… until she’s lost everything and goes back, and discovers it’s not what she thought and she misses the North. John thinks everything is better in the North… until he’s lost everything, goes after her, and discovers that maybe there’s a different way of looking at things.

The repressed passion between them is played brilliantly. She dislikes him at first (and we see him through her eyes as a thug and a bully – though we discover that actually he’s trying to protect his workers. Note that this bit isn’t in the novel, but I think it works well because in the original it’s harder to be sympathetic to Margaret’s snobbery) but the attraction is obvious.

The bit where John watches Margaret’s carriage move away and he’s saying through gritted teeth, ‘Look back at me’ – that’s a black moment par excellence. I defy you to watch that and not yell at the screen to tell Margaret to look back. The emotions on his face… Rare acting skill, there. It’s completely believable.

(Oh, all right. You need to see it for yourself, don’t you?)

The acting throughout is superb – from the main characters through to the supporting cast. Sinead Cusack was wonderful as the matriarch Hannah Thornton (you’d need to be a very strong character to cope with her as a mother-in-law – luckily, Margaret’s very strong), and Brendan Coyle was superb as Nicholas Higgins (the leader of the workers – and although he was initially set against John Thornton, recognised that Thornton had good qualities and supported him when he needed it).

It’s a superb dramatisation of a novel I enjoyed very much, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. And if you’re in a position where you can watch the whole six hours… it’s fabulous!

And that kiss… OK, it’s anachronistic because it just wouldn’t have happened in Victorian times. (Public demonstrations like that were most unseemly.) But it’s very much in the spirit of the book, and it hits exactly the right note for a modern audience. The sheer tenderness… Perfect ending. Those who’ve seen it will know what I’m talking about; those who haven’t will have a treat in store. It’s edited to remove Lennox’s part, but… Oh, just click on the link below and enjoy!

Kate’s thrilled to say that she’s had her first ever Romantic Times Top Pick this month with Surrender to the Playboy Sheikh (you can get an early copy from the Harlequin website in the US, and copies on the M&B website in the UK and the Harlequin website in Australia).

You can find out more about these books, and Kate, on her website ( and her blog (


  1. Ah have covered it now.
    I adore N&S. I did not watch it when it first came out and only watched when I was starting QI but fell absolutely in love with it.
    It is v well done.

  2. The Look back at me scene is not what gets me. It's the proposal - and his passionate proclamation that he isn't asking her because he wants to possess her, but because he loves her. Oooooh gives me lovely chills.

    And that train station scene. I've used THAT for inspiration. It is gorgeousness.

    I read the book as well and loved it.

  3. Michelle - I thought it was really well done, too. Very well cast and beautifully acted.

  4. Donna - mm, the proposal was good too :o)

    But for me, every time, it's "Look back at me". Very inspiring.

  5. Alison, you have excellent taste :o)

  6. Ooh Kate you sneaked in ahead of me, I was definitely eyeing this up for my next Friday blog after discovering it recently.

    But I couldn't have said it better than you. There's something so delicious about that juxtaposition of gruff darkly handsome northerner and soft-hearted southerner - although of course John and Margaret turn out to be so much more complex than that. Plus the supporting cast to die for and Richard Armitage's piercing blue-eyed Darcy stare (which made me knees go all wobbly). The kiss, the declaration scenes - and I also loved the score.

    Fantastic, noone makes this kind of costume drama better than Auntie Beeb, would love much more of this and a lot less reality TV frankly.

  7. Ooh, now I'm going to have to rush out and get a copy. Sounds fabulous.