Thursday, February 14, 2013

Needing a Downton Abbey fix? Try the BBC's "North and South"

No, it's not set in the World War One era or the Twenties.  BUT...the BBC's 2004 series "North and South" is delightfully British, a really good story,features a feisty heroine and a handsome brooding hero...and even Downton Abbey's Mr. Bates (well, Brendan Coyle) in a featured role.

Not only that, it's just four episodes, so you're not making a major time commitment.

I had heard about "North and South," and at first confused it with the Civil War miniseries.  But this "North and South" is based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell  (who also happened to be the close friend and biographer of Charlotte Bronte.)

This from Wikipedia:

It follows the story of Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe), a young woman from southern England who has to move to the North after her father decides to leave the clergy. The family struggles to adjust itself to the industrial town's customs, especially after meeting the Thorntons, a proud family of cotton mill owners who seem to despise their social inferiors. The story explores the issues of class and gender, as Margaret's sympathy for the town mill workers conflicts with her growing attraction to John Thornton (Richard Armitage).

Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby Ashe) 

Daniela Denby Ashe exudes a quiet loveliness as the heroine, Margaret Hale.  (BBC series never feel the need to plaster make-up on their Victorian characters, and Denby Ashe is luminous without it.)

But Margaret is the kind of young woman that made Victorians a bit uncomfortable...she's just a bit too passionate about things like social injustice, and a little too outspoken with her opinions.  All in all, although she can sometimes be quick to judge, she's an admirable character that you want to root for.

John Thornton (Richard Armitage)


And yeah...what can I say about Richard Armitage as John Thornton?!

Well, John doesn't come off as a sympathetic character at first.  We (and Margaret) first see him beating up an employee for smoking on the job.  (We later learn that the employee had been warned before, and fire was the single greatest danger in a cotton mill, but the scene doesn't exactly endear you to mill owner John Thornton.)

Yep, that was a VERY bad first impression, and it keeps Margaret from wanting anything to do with him for some time.

Needless to say, the character redeems himself.  And as for Richard Armitage?  I'd read stuff raving about the I know what all the fuss is about.

Nicholas Higgins (Downtown Abbey's Brendan Coyle)

Mr. Bates is one of my favorite characters on Downton Abbey, and he's a likable character here too...but very different from the strong-but-subdued Bates.

Coyle plays Nicholas Higgins, a union organizer passionate about getting better pay and working conditions for his co-workers at the cotton mill.

(Interestingly, the series is even-handed about unions--depicting the need for them, but also the quandary of workers who can't feed their families on bare-bones strike pay.)

Margaret Hale has befriended Higgins' daughter Bessy, and becomes friends with Higgins as well.  She strongly sympathizes with the plight of the mill workers...another thing that doesn't endear John Thornton to her.

I enjoyed seeing Brendan Coyle in a role where he could be more forceful, more eloquent and more rowdy than Mr. Bates.

Finally...a love story


There's so much to keep John and Margaret apart, I began to despair of them ever getting together.  (I was also getting a bit annoyed with Margaret--seriously, you're NOT into him?!)

But I don't think it's too much of a  *spoiler* --to tell you that the payoff is rewarding, even if it comes at the very end.
***spoiler over***

"Look back...look back at me."--via 

(I watched North and South for free on Amazon prime.)


Sharon Lane said...

Thanks Cindy. I'm a HUGE Downton fan so I'll check this out. It's so funny to see Mr. Bates as another character.

Sue said...

Hi Cindy, over and over I hear about Downtown Abbey and have yet to see it. I hope to see if I can catch it On Demand this weekend and also to find this North and South, as you have made me so curious! I am going to go browse around your blog now.

Angela @ Cottage Magpie said...

Oh my!! Another one to add to my Netflix queue!! I have actually never watched it, and I really want to. Great recommendation, thanks!! ~Angela~

John Milton said...

“Congratulations Cindy Swanson! Thank you so much for taking the time to share this exciting information.”


Tina Byland said...

I must watch this show! And my dad just got Amazon Prime and was looking for something to watch. He likes Downton Abbey So I'm going to suggest we watch it next time we visit him. Thanks so much!

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