Book to Film: North and South by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

In North and South we are introduced to Mr. Thornton and Margaret Hale, their story entwined with the turbulent social issues of their time set in the background of the industrial city of Milton.

Mr. Thornton rose up on the top spot of my most beloved classic book hero of all time (yes, I'm sorry but kindly move over Mr. Darcy). I admired a lot of his characteristics and even more his subtle change over the course of time since he became acquainted with Margaret Hale. But it sure does make me laugh out loud (and I can't pin down why) in a sort of giddy incredulous way every time Mr. Thornton appears. There's this disarming irony in his contained appearance in contrast to his passionate inner musings.

Margaret though is a bit of a slow warm to me. She flits from girl to woman in sporadic times. She's given over to trifling fears and doubts at certain points as if her sympathies and affectations appear half-formed. However, when she shows her calm and power, it appears irresolute and undaunted, a quite strong image to be admired and Mr. Thornton isn't immune to it. But the number of times Margaret cries in the book makes you wonder sometimes like 'sigh, this girl is crying again?' but I think here the book rather displays her weaknesses as well as her strengths. She is as normal as she is extraordinary.

The book was first adapted to screen in 1975 (which I haven't seen) and again in 2004 as a four-part series on BBC. Since the 2004 version is a favorite of mine, notwithstanding that I saw it first, I will put it out here. I loved the series with Richard Armitage as the inimitable Mr. Thornton and Daniela Denby-Ashe as the lovely Margaret Hale. Totally loved it! I must say for Armitage, apart from his brilliant portrayal, he got me at his magnetic gaze (who wouldn't be!).

Mr. Thornton is as much in the film as in the book, if not handsomer on screen (have I raved Armitage's performance yet?) My only regret may be that he did not utter "Oh my Margaret, my Margaret" on the adapted version (or I would have swooned). Another thing is that the limits of film could not explore more of Mr. Thornton's inner turmoils over Margaret as in the page.

Margaret, to me, has a more solid and steady character in the film. She exudes an assured and capable poise. Her character, once she shares affections to someone, be it family or friend, appear unquestionable, a comforting presence facing all challenges. Unless she is facing Mr. Thornton, that is, for she has that unmistakable habit of self-denial.

Her friendship with Bessy, a frail girl she knew in Milton, is formed it seems outside the fringe of classes, meeting halfway in equal grounds, with lots of girly laughs and compassion. The book showed a rather different light to it for it appears that Bessy is awed of Margaret's presence and admires her for her being like an angel in her eyes. There I see a somewhat unequal ground reflective of their differing stations in life. Now Nicholas Higgins, I loved him on film. His subtle and calm countenance help form the opinion of his solidity and steadfastness, someone trustworthy and not unpredictable nor violent. There's a certain amusing repartee going on film between Mr. Thornton and Mr. Higgins and I like that. Of course, I must mention Mrs. Thornton. Oh, what a tough dame she is! Sinead Cusack wore her character to a tee.

There is a slight difference in the adaptation but not by much. Its spirit and core still the same. The set design and atmosphere permeates right off the book. Helstone is indeed a picturesque Tennyson poem. The dialogues, or some, are unforgettable and piercing. When Margaret in her letter to her cousin Edith spoke about the mills, she mentioned that she had 'seen hell, and it is white, it's snow white.'

Book Summary:
When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concert, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature. (see)

Book Title: North and South
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Genre: Classics, Romance
Published: 1996
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Rating: ♨♨♨♨ ( 5 cups - I cannot wait to read more of Gaskell's works. This is quite a solid portrayal of people yearning and searching for something more or best, a love arising amidst difficulties, social issues and an eye-opener of the characteristics between the North and South.)

TV Series Title: North & South
Director: Brian Percival
Cast: Richard Armitage, Daniela Denby-Ashe, Sinead Cusack, Brendan Coyle
Release Date: 2004
Rating ♨♨♨♨♨ ( 5 cups - A beautiful and moving series. The set and the actors are brilliant in their roles and you will find yourself playing it over and over, Richard Armitage notwithstanding.)

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