Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: North and South

I heard about North and South from various places: Amazon recommendations, other blogs, even some of my followers recommended it. A while ago, my mom and I were at Barnes and Noble, and we picked up North and South along with Downton Abbey. We finally got to watch North and South last week. Here's what I thought.
Box Art

When Mr. Hale, a clergyman, has a matter of conscience on his mind regarding his position, he uproots his family from Helston in the south of England to Milton, an industrial town in the north of England, to become a tutor. Mr. Hale's daughter, Margaret, takes an immediate dislike to Milton: she witnesses an employer of a cotton mill mistreating one of his employees. Margaret soon finds out that her father has taken a new pupil, Mr. Thornton, the same employer that witnessed mistreating his employee.

There are a couple of members of the cast that you might recognize: Mrs. Hale was played by Lesley Manville who was Mrs. Rose in Cranford; Nicholas Higgins was played by Brendan Coyle who was Robert Timmins in Lark Rise to Candleford and John Bates in Downton Abbey. Frederick Hale was played by Rupert Evans who was Frank Churchill in the latest adaptation of Emma.
Margaret Hale (Right) and Mr. Thornton (Middle) in Milton:
notice the grey overtones.

For about 75% of the miniseries, I really disliked Mr. Thornton... and even by the end, I only got to the point where I admitted that he was "okay". It seemed like he couldn't control his temper most of the time, or he would be extremely rude. By the end, when he started to get along with Nicholas Higgins, a former union leader, and how he started to take interested in the newly orphaned children that Nicholas was taking care of, he started to get a little more humanity to him and became a little more likable. To me, it was a bit difficult to like his character throughout the entire miniseries.

It took me a little bit to like Margaret, but it didn't take too long. For a while, I thought that she took any opportunity of butting her way into conversations between Mr. Thornton and her father, which kind of caused me to think that she was looking for any chance to argue with Mr. Thornton. By the second half of the miniseries, she stopped that and even started to like Mr. Thornton. Overall, I like her character, but like any character in literature, she has her faults like the rest of us.

Helstone in the South
I didn't like the scenery very much throughout 95% of the movie. Most of the scenes took place in Milton: since it is an industrial town, there are a lot of gray colors (due to smoke). Milton was not pretty to look at, which was probably the angle that the film-makers were going for. The country scenes were very pretty! Whenever scenes were in the country, the colors were very bold and popped out at you. The scenes in the country were few though, so there are only a couple of scenes where you get to see the vibrant colors.

I thought the costuming was good. I liked some of Margaret's outfits. My favorite one has to be the white blouse with the dark green skirt. Some of her dresses I really didn't care for (like the dress she had during the final scene at the train station: I really didn't like that one), but for the most part, I liked her dresses. Some of Fanny Thornton's dresses were also nice (but I disliked her character).

The music was mostly very serious since the story was a serious story. Most of the pieces were slow moving and had a lower tone to them.

Overall: 4/5
I liked North and South, but I wouldn't say it's my favorite. Spoiler Towards the end, it seemed like characters were dying off one by one. At least four prominent characters died by the end and one was about to die in a short while. End of Spoiler I tend to like more lighthearted stories, so it can be difficult for me to like a more serious storyline, but I did like it. It kept me interested throughout the entire miniseries. There are some implications, violence and people do die in this miniseries, but other than that there really isn't anything too bad in this miniseries.

North and South is available on a two disk DVD. It is 235 minutes long and has four episodes.


  1. I am an ardent North & South fan. I can see why you might not like Mr. Thornton. He did have a temper and he had other faults, but I have to say that I like Mr. Thornton better than Mr. Darcy. Because Mr. Darcy has been made too perfect. Mr. Thornton on the other hand is not, and he seemed to change too. Mr. Darcy does change, but I still feel that he is a little too perfect. (please understand that I LOVE P&P it is one of my favorites!) I also like Mr. Thornton has because of the depth Richard Armitage gave the Character. (Richard Armitage has become my favorite actor because of his wonderful talent at bringing depth to his characters)

    Another think I loved about it was the two different views it gave. When Margret and Mr. Thornton have arguments, I can very easily say that they are both right and both wrong. I may disaprove (sorry that I can not spell that word) of Mr. Thornton's actions but he makes a very good point. I really love seeing two different perspectives. I also love seeing the cultural differences between the North and the south of England.

    Wonderful review!! Thank you for posting!

  2. I'm glad, Elegance of Fashion, that you did not become a die-hard North and South fan. :) I did not pick up that Frederick Hale and Frank Churchill were the same! Now I do want to watch N&S again and watch for it. I've seen Emma enough now...I hadn't seen it yet when I watched N&S!

  3. I've read North and South but haven't watched the miniseries yet. From your review, it looks like they made Mr. Thornton a bit more ill-mannered than the character in the book. He was well-likable by the end of the book, for me at least. But I'd still like to give the miniseries a try.

  4. Now, this is one of those movies that took me more than one time to really like it; when I watch it more, I like it more. Not sure why. Although, now when I watch it I fast-forward all the mill striker stuff, which takes away some of the depressing elements. ;-) There are some movies where it was okay for once, but I think this is one of those that's good when you watch it MORE than once. Just so you know. ;-) haha

    Have your read the book? I haven't read all of it; but I know that Mr Thornton didn't beat anybody in the book. :)

  5. Melody,
    I haven't read the book, so I didn't know much about the storyline before I watched it. I heard that Mr. Thornton didn't beat anyone in the book. I wonder why they put that into the miniseries...

  6. I agree with Elizabeth, I have been a huge North & South fan for a while now and would have to say I love Thornton more than Darcy. This is just simply because I see more reform in Thornton than Darcy. And I think also I can understand more of why Mr Thornton is the way he is, especially as his childhood past is revealed. And Richard Armitage is just wonderful as Thornton!

    Thanks for posting this review, I really enjoyed reading it, and your honesty :)

  7. You need to read the book to really appreciate the film. Mr Thornton is not portrayed with the same strength that you find him with in the book. Also, the violent scene where he beats a worker in the beginning is totally made up.

    The book is great by the way!

  8. Elegance,
    I've heard that they thought viewers wouldn't understand why Margaret disliked Mr Thornton so much, so they decided to make him beat someone up....o.O I can see both sides to him doing that...that was a BIG danger, but he shouldn't have acted so quickly, and not that way.

  9. I'm not a *huge* North and South fan, but I do think it's an excellent miniseries, beautifully scripted, filmed, acted, etc. It's certainly a bit gritty, but I like seeing a more realistic fact, the Victorian era portrayed in N&S is probably one of the most accurate portrayals.

    I like Thornton a lot, too. He's not perfect, but he certainly loves his mom and has worked so hard to provide for his family, even though he wasn't born into wealth or status.

    The other great thing about N&S is all the different viewpoints, like Elizabeth said. And just like in the real world, the characters are grey characters, not totally evil or totally good.

  10. A very proficient review! I'm glad I found your blog through Austenitis. The book is so much better than the mini series! I'm a die hard fan of the bbc adaptation, but to get to know the real Mr Thornton, go to the book. You won't be disappointed. So many of these types of books/movies are set in more genteel places. Milton was rather rough compared. Watching it again may illumine more of the nuances of the story for you, as well.

  11. I love North and South! I have watched it several times over the last few years and have also read the book. As was mentioned in the other comments, Mr. Thornton was not as bad in the book.
    Some people don't like the movie as much because it does have a certain "darkness" to it. But I have a meloncholie side to me that is drawn to "deeper" stories such as this one. ;-)

  12. *steps up to pulpit*
    I was a North & South fan from the very beginning. Mr. Thornton is my absolute favorite period drama man. Elegance, I think you need to keep in mind that Mr. Thornton is a businessman. He has many burdens incl. keeping up the business, providing for his mother and sister, keeping the workers safe etc. I admit, he can rub you the wrong way and sometimes he seems uncaring, but that's where Margaret comes in. Through her he gets a more in-depth picture of the poor of Milton. I do not like Margaret for most of the movie. She can be very rude and, like Elizabeth from P&P, she judges on first impressions. (The last scene she kisses his hand because she knows she has judged him falsely and she is sorry) The music is gorgeous; its just absolutely perfect for the series. Everytime I hear it...ooh I just get chills. What I liked about North & South also is that its not just a romance. There is definately more going on (i.e. strike, business failure, etc.).
    One other thing: I'm new to your blog but I'm confused as to what you are reviewing about the scenery. Is it the view or the camera technique? If you are judging just for the pretty locations I'm not sure that is entirely fair. I could see lets say if Emma was filmed in a swamp then that would be worth noting but for something like North & South? The director is just following how the book had it - Milton is an industrial city and Helstone is the country. The camera shots are meant to show the contrast, to show how Margaret's world has been turned upside down. I could go on about this subject but I'll stop. I suggest in the future reviews, however, that you judge a movie not by it's scenery per se and more on film quality, coloring, and angles. Who watches a period drama just for the locations? We have the National Geographic Channel for that.
    *steps down from pulpit*

    1. On the scenery bit, I agree that the darker colors for the scenes in Milton were probably accurate to the story (I've never read North and South, so I'm guessing here based on the miniseries); I just didn't like it just based on my personal preference. I tend to favor lighter/more vivid colors when it comes to scenery (I did like the scenes in Helstone which were nicely colored). I really don't like darker color schemes when it comes to films, but for some films it wouldn't make sense to have it colorful. I understand what you're saying that the darker setting worked for North and South. I guess the scenery part was more based on my personal preference :-P

      Thanks for leaving the long comment! I do love long comments! :-)


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