North & South (2004)
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This amazing performance should not be missed. I wish I had the means and knowledge to send copies of the DVD to all of the big independent producers, the studios, and directors.
This guy has "it" - talent, stature, intelligence, charisma. Anyone serious about acting should not miss Richard Armitage's performance.
The production is authentic - set in an impressive, historic working mill - with Edinburgh filling in for Manchester (Milton). The camera work is fluid and modern, and the story is told easily, not stilted, like some period dramas.
The acting is superb - the lead characters John and Hannah Thornton, Margaret Hale, and union man Nicholas Higgins are so natural that you forget that you are watching a movie, and get simply enthralled in their story. The supporting characters are also strong making this an unexpected gem of a movie.
Some of the dialog is taken directly from the book; some scenes are new but feel authentic. Overall I think that the story is very well told - the story of owner vs. worker in the industrial revolution - as well as an unexpected romance between social classes.
MARTIN PHIPPS' HYPNOTIC SCORE: reminiscent of Gorecki; minimalism that drills past the kapital-K-krap of the last hundred years of pop culture and reaches something as fundamental as the beat of a human heart, the lungs' breath. Honors both one of the most wrenchingly intimate on screen moments ever and yet also the sweep of the Industrial Revolution.
SINEAD CUSACK: breathtaking as a ruthless matriarch; better, even than Nancy Marchand as a Mafia queen in "The Sopranos." POSTURE: Never has so much drama been milked out of actors' vertebrae. Helen Hayes' czarina pose in "Anastasia" was good, but Sinead Cusack's carriage and Richard Armitage's spinal column earn special Academy Awards.
PLOT TWISTS: I did not know where this one was going until the very last moment of the very last scene. Twists pulled me into the issues the plot engages, and made me engage them myself.
IT'S COMPLICATED: Leftist academics' pinko-tinged glasses depict the workers as beautiful and bosses as diabolical. But tycoon Andrew Carnegie, who brutalized his workers, was an epic philanthropist; workers scabbed, drank, and beat their kids. N&S depicts historical complications with its heroic/brutal workers/bosses. All characters are sometimes sympathetic, and sometimes utterly alienating - just like real life! A complex script works to earn our understanding, and our love, for complex human beings, the service, art, at its best, performs.
CHICK FLICK: "Fight, flight, or fix it" is a male response. Guy flix: explosions, chases, gadgets. "Tend and befriend" is a female response. We restore the world by ministering to its root: human hearts. N&S presents its heroine and its viewer with misunderstandings she must address; doing so, she matures, and we mature with her. Margaret's blossoming is an integral cog in a shock striking the world even today: the journey from tradition and pastoral beauty to sharp-elbow competition and industrial ugliness. Margaret's flailing culture shock and attempts to find, remain, and cultivate her best self under a rulebook she hasn't yet seen mirrors millions' struggle. Daniela Denby-Ashe limn's Margaret's triumph with honesty and grace. She's not afraid to be unlikeable; she's not even afraid to be noble.
MISOGYNY-FREE ZONE: We are so awash in misogyny, often fed by women themselves - who can forget the blow struck for women's dignity by celebrities who go out without their underthings? - that N&S is almost shocking in the respect it shows women. Margaret Hale has a front-row seat to one of the greatest upheavals in human history: industrialization. She takes on its rewards and woes. She makes decisions, engages with the powerful, grows and changes. And she does all this without once trivializing herself, or allowing anyone else to trivialize her. *And* she's accompanied by interesting women and girls, both rich and poor. That, alone, makes N&S worth more than a hundred critical darlings in which misogyny is an inescapable ingredient.
MORALITY. Christianity. HOPE. REMEMBER THOSE? Gaskell's book and this adaptation take on really hard challenges: workers v. capitalists, traditional rural life's poverty and its beauty v. laissez-faire capitalism's new opportunities, ugliness and anomie. N&S could have just exploited the Industrial Revolution as colorful backdrop; it didn't. N&S attempts to offer solutions and hope, based on fundamental Christian values like non-violence and sharing. Gee, what if the folks who had made the nihilistic downer film "Syriana," about our dependence on petroleum, had tried something similar? When the N&S boss and his workers sat down to a meal together, I cried cynicism-free tears. But . . . what WERE they eating? It looked like sludge. The redemption in the movie's key kiss is not just about eros, it's also about agape. And that made me cry. (Cried many times.)
BRENDAN COYLE AS NICHOLAS HIGGINS: Let's import Higgins, making sure he keeps that snazzy, puffy-sleeved shirt that displays his chest hair. He'd be a greater boost to the trade union movement than locating Jimmy Hoffa.
NOT A SINGLE WASTED CHARACTER, PERFORMANCE, OR SCENE: A bereaved husband converses with his late wife, as a maid looks on, her facial expression speaking volumes. A desperate man gazes at running water dyed purple. The most amazing scene of all, every bit as stunning as the famous crane shot in GWTW: a woman, her straw hat and bumpkin gait rendering her an agrarian silhouette in an industrial landscape, drawn by a seductive, menacing, thrum, walks up to a large wooden door, pulls it back, and steps into the Industrial Revolution. "I have seen hell, and it is white, snow white." Mebbe so. But that scene is cinematic heaven-on-earth.
RICHARD ARMITAGE: I don't even want to go there. Let's just say that I've just purchased the latest ticket to his crowded harem of adoring fans, and this: even if I had watched N&S with the sound turned off; Armitage's performance was so exquisitely articulate I could have transcribed pages of dialogue and backstory just from studying his face. But if I watched with the sound turned off, I would have missed the most arresting screen voice since Orson Welles, and the dreamiest since Ronald Coleman . . . Ladies, cave. Resistance is futile.
It was the best dollar I have ever spent! I thought it very brave subject matter for the BBC to attempt as Mrs Gaskell does not enjoy the fame that Austen or the Bronte sisters names carry. In fact, to most, if you mentioned " North and South" before this wonderful production aired in the UK, they would probably think you were talking about a 1980's American Civil War drama with Kirstie Alley and Patrick Swayze!!! I have read a lot of the comments on here and there seems to be a general consensus that Richard Armitage rocks! I won't disagree. As a part time actor myself, I am critical when I watch dramas - If I see an actor playing the part and not the actual character, I lose belief. Perhaps it helped that I had not seen him before but, somehow, I feel that, even if I had, I would still have been totally ,mesmerised by his performance. Never has a character ever drawn me in so completely - not even when I read the book. In fact, I recall not liking him much at all when I first read it. However, Armitage played the role beautifully. As the episodes unfolded, we saw the layers start to peel away and, beneath the harsh exterior, a sensitive and painfully lonely man appear. Armitage was not merely acting the part - he BECAME John Thornton. He has a truly special quality that you don't often see in actors and he could say more in a look than ever any words needed. The scene where Margaret rides off in the carriage in the snow, leaving Milton, leaving Thornton watching her leave, yearning for her to show him a sign and look back, was one of the most beautifully shot scenes I have ever seen on the small screen. I have lost touch with the BAFTAS these past few years but that was a BAFTA worthy performance in that one scene if ever I saw one.
Onto the other actors. Dramas like these are ensemble pieces and succeed because of the power of the combined performances. I frowned when I saw Daniela Denby Ash for the first time in this production. Perhaps because we get a nightly dose of "My Family" here in NZ and I had the spoiled, bombastic, "Janey Harper" image in my head. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the restraint in her performance. It is so easy to be all heaving bosoms and fluttering eyes in these period dramas but she played the strong willed Margaret Hale to perfection and the chemistry between her and Armitage on screen was electrifying.
The amazing Sinead Cusack. I didn't like her accent at first I will admit, I thought it overdone but, the power of her performance as the protective mother soon made this pale into insignificance and I thought she played the role to perfection.
The wonderful Tim Piggott Smith. He is always good value and he conveyed all the goodness and gentleness of Mr Hale that I remembered from the book (and ironic that 30 years before, he played Frederick!). The scene where he is talking about one of his pupils to his newly deceased wife had tears in my eyes. As did the scene where he greeted his long lost son Frederick.
I LOVED Pauline Quirke as Dixon. She is a wonderful actress who I feel is really beginning to flourish and show just what a strong performer she is. She was utterly believable and her relationship with Mrs Hale was touching and evocative.
Finally, I would like to mention the wonderful Brendan Coyle - an actor who,in my opinion, has not enjoyed the recognition that he deserves. He totally captured the dignity of the working class man trying to improve life for his family and fellow workers and the despair when things spiral out of his control - the death of his beloved Bessie, the breaking of the strike by the desperate Boucher and the way that, despite all the suffering and the heartache, he sees beyond the barriers that Thornton throws up around him and puts out the hand of friendship and support. The scene where Thornton goes to Nicholas's house to ask him to come and work for him was wonderful. So touching to see two very proud men make such concessions. Beautifully played.
Finally, yeah, I know it was poetic license, but the scene at the rail station was the perfect climax to the piece. I had tingles down my spine just watching it ( and a few tears). If only life were that romantic! And I am sure there was not a red blooded woman watching that didn't wish a man would look at her with half the longing that Thornton looked at Margaret nor kiss her with half the passion that he kissed her with. Nobody does drama like the " Beeb " and, to me, this production rates above " Pride and Prejudice" and I would have Mr Thornton over Mr Darcy any day!!
I also thought the sets and locations were fabulous - such details especially the 'snow' scene in the factory at the very beginning- spell binding!. So all in all even though certain details of Victorian conduct etc were thrown out of the window this production was brilliant!! I can't wait for the DVD to come out... It was so great I immediately read the book
I've just finished watching it (for the hundredth time) and is still stands the test of time. How on Earth did the BBC managed to get a near perfect cast for this production is simply miraculous and the lead actors were virtually unknown at the time! Elizabeth Gaskell works may not be well known, however Mrs Gaskell is to be given credit. She was one of the first to write how exactly the common man, at the time, spoke with imperfect English. She witnessed the decay and filth, breathed the smoke of industry and saw the poverty of the workers, when she lived in Manchester with her preacher husband; North and South, the novel, depicts all this.
This adaptation of Mrs Gaskell's North and South is faultless and the acting is sublime.Some lines and scenes are from the book, while others parts are adapted to suit the small screen and modern audiences. For example, Margaret in the book never went to the mill, where as she does in the TV mini series. Nevertheless it does follow the book closely, far closer than Mrs Gaskell's other novel turned into a mini series Cansford (2007).
Daniela Denby-Ashe is absolutely ideal as the beautiful, privileged and head strong Margaret Hale who is uprooted from her beloved Helstone to the industrial town of Milton by her father Mr Hale. It is in Milton where Margaret's middle class ideals are challenged and she slowly grows as a person of real character; along this journey she slows admires and eventually falls in love with the local mill owner John Thornton (a self made man who has successfully, raised his family and himself out of poverty, whom she considers to be socially inferior) . This challenging role allows Ms Denby-Ashe to stretch her acting abilities, develop her character and her portrayal as Margaret is simply stunning. There are scenes, combined with great lighting and the Victorian costume, where Daniela is gorgeously beautiful. What a contrast to see her in this, then the dumbing character of Janey in My Family.
Richard Armitage is John Thornton! He breathed life in to this character and gave him dimensions. Mr Armitage portrays him as man with many facets: flawed, ruthless, angry, intelligent but also with a honest and frank countenance. Cannot think of any other English actor to portray John Thornton as Richard Armitage has. Not many actors can pull off expressions that can convey a range of emotions with a look and not uttering a single word. His screen presence is charismatic and riveting, but well balanced, as to not overwhelm Ms Denby-Ashe presence on the small screen. Simply put, the man has TALENT! which puts to shames his contemporaries thespians in Hollywood.
And the chemistry between the two leading actors makes watching the end worthwhile. (Puritans would gasp in horror, but if you read the book, you'll know what I mean, when I state, although I loved the book, I prefer this modern updated ending). But lets not forget the supporting cast.
Sinead Cusack, a delight to watch as Mrs Hannah Thornton. To witness Richard Armitage and Sinead, having similar characteristics and as well as mannerisms, even looks, you'd be lead to believe they are related. And Mrs Thornton's love for her son John, is beautifully enacted, in the scene before and after the proposal.
Great to see Tim Piggot-Smith as Mr Hale (a weak character) in a role that does not stereo cast him as villain. Leslie Manville as Mrs Maria Hale, another weak character, is virtually unrecognizable. Brendan Coyle does justice to the character of Nicholas Higgins; notice the twinkle in his eye when he reveals some truths to Thornton.
Anna Maxwell Martin as Bessie Higgins, Pauline Quirke as Dixon, Jo Joyner as self absorbed Fanny Thornton and Brian Protheroe (Mr Bell) all have their moments in the spotlight. Finally, Rupert Evans, surprising to see him cast as Frederick Hale, and he does look a bit like Daniela Denby-Ashe.
Sandy Welch script is placed in the careful hands of director Brian Percival who manages to film N&S beautifully. Edinburgh as Milton in the 1800 gives a wonderful feel, for the the industrialization of England, the cotton mills and the Union movement. Locations and set design are a treat, which give the feel of the Victorian era. The rigid social structure is highlighted not only in the actors accents, speech and manner of dress but also where they live. Just look at the difference between the household of the Higgins, Hales and Thornton not to mention London, where Edith lives.
The costumes give depth and assist the actors with their character; delightful to see Daniela in a wide brim hat than a bonnet. Richard Armitage look devilishly handsome with or without a cravat.
Lastly music by Martin Phipps, this man can compose and it shone in N&S. The score plays beautifully to important moments in the story. Margaret and John's simple piano tune, subtly overlaid, when there is an emotional development in their relationship or when they are both internalizing their feels for each other; to the swelling music when something dramatic has happened, all fits in well with the overall production.
North & South is proof that you don't need state of the art special effects, million dollar budgets and overpaid actors with star power or sex scenes. A simple story can touch a thousand souls...for it connects to the emotional human side and you feel for the characters as they travel on their journey, and North & South has all that.
Can't complain a/b the casting, the characters John Thornton and Margaret Hale were brought to life beautifully! As for the ending...could it have been any more romantic?! :) It was soooo intense!!! :) Great movie, it now rivals w/ Pride & Prejudice and Lorna Doone as my 2 fave BBC productions!!!
All the actors were polished in their performances, but in my book the accolades go to Sinead Cusack for her performance as Hannah Thornton, Brendan Coyle as Nicholas Higgins and of course not forgetting Daniela Denbeigh Ash as Margaret Hale......but the one actor who wore the part of John Thornton to a degree of sheer understated brilliance was Richard Armitage....lets pray that this is the start of something really big for this young talented British actor.
It has all the passion that Pride and Prejudice (Bless it!) lacks.
The story centers around Margaret Hale who moves from Helstone (the South) to Milton (the North). To begin with Margaret hates the bleak and industrial north and especially dislikes Mr Thornton who appears to Margaret to be cold and controlling, or are things not as they appear to be?
The hero is John Thornton (Richard Armitage) a self-made mill owner, who initially appears to be an aloof and brutal tyrant (Mr. Darcy with a Northern accent). The heroine is Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) a clergyman's daughter from Hampshire who finds it difficult to fit into northern society. Hale's family don't have a lot of money and seem out of place. She befriends the family of a union leader and causes controversy by speaking her mind about working conditions in the mills.
The story is based on a novel by Mrs. Gaskell, and the central characters go through some hardships and misunderstandings before they reach the predictable happy ending. The BBC is very good at this sort of thing. The story was well told with excellent acting, especially from Armitage, Sinead Cusack and Tim Piggott Smith. The characters were articulate and the plot was both credible and absorbing. Overall, it was an enjoyable series.
This mini series propelled me to read to book. I doubt I would have been able to finish the novel had I not envisioned Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton and heard his fantastic voice while reading his lines.
This series is a little slow out of the gate, but hang on to your hats after you get started. I bought the DVD from Amazon and watched it in one sitting. I would have never heard of it had it not been raved about on the Pride and Prejudice 2005 message board. Repeatedly. I've had friends over to see it who have bought it off Amazon before leaving my house. It is that good.
Where are you hiding these fantastic actors? While we are stuck here the states hearing drivel and ultrasound reports about Pitt/Jolie and Cruise/Holmes (gag), the British have actors like Richard Armitage and Matthew Macfadyen. While not considered pretty boys these are the most devastatingly handsome, chocolate-voiced, talented actors I've seen in many years.
I just thank all involved in a wonderful, inspiring and beautifully filmed show.
The casting on this mini-series was perfect, not one role had been cast wrong.
Daniella was engaging and convincing as Margaret Hale, who moves from the South to the industrial North when her father gives up his post as a minister.
Richard though is just superb as John Thornton. He is very convincing and for once we see a good actor, with talents (and in my books very good looking), without having the traditional 'pretty boy' look.
Basically Margaret comes to learn that while things are different in the North, it doesn't make the South any better. She finds that there is a stronger sense of family unity and bonding and she begins to make friends with people below her status, because plain and simple - they're good people.
This is a must watch. Congratulations to the BBC on a fine movie, which is even better than the book it was based on.