Look back. Look back at me.
There are many reasons why I stay away from period dramas especially of the English kind: (1) Their accent is tough for me to make out, (2) Their words are almost ancient it’s tough for me to make out and (3) I usually prefer to watch shows where I have to leave my brain at the door so it won’t be tough for me to make out…BUT
Hello Mr. John Thornton, looking so mighty fine brooding and angst-y, just how I like my period drama heroes (see Heathcliff and Darcy) Or in North and South‘s case, Thornton seems like an anti-hero. Recently, I have been re-reading a lot of Austen and re-watching the BBC adaptations, and that is how I discovered North and South.
North and South is a four-part drama series produced by the BBC in 2004. It stars Daniela Denby-Ashe as the headstrong Southerner Margaret Hale who has to move to the North when her father resigns from being a member of the clergy. She becomes sympathetic to the plight of the cotton mill workers while trying to subdue her attraction for the strict mill owner John Thornton (he of the brooding eyes and sideburns) played by Richard Armitage.
A Daydreaming Margaret
There are some similarities to my all-time favorite Pride and Prejudice – brooding and seemingly emotionally shut-down male lead, check! Feisty and opinionated female lead, check! Misunderstandings due to miscommunication, check! and a rebuffed marriage proposal, CHECK!
So what pray tell is the difference? Nothing much I suppose except that at the end of the series each episode has an average of two deaths, it can be renamed Pride and Prejudice and More Dead Bodies. Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe are such good actors that one cannot help but be fully invested in the story. Each facial expression, each gesture can convey anger, shame, pity, pain and longing.
I think John Thornton is going to replace either Heathcliff or Darcy as the second fictional male character that I admire. Yes, Captain Frederick Wentworth still tops my list, despite these lines spoken by John Thornton:
“I knew I wasn’t good enough for her, but now I think I love her more than ever.”
“She does not care for me, and that is enough. The only thing you can do for me is to never say her name again. We will not talk about her again.”
and the killer,
“Look back. Look back at me.”
More than a love story, North and South also portrays the clash between different classes. The differing points of view of the genteel nobility, the powerful mill owners and the wage laborers were explored in different scenes throughout the series. I liked the stark contrast of the colorful South versus the industrial drab of the North. It was not just a love story about difference in class and resolving the issues that come along with it, but also a peek at working conditions (which were really inhumane) at that time.
What makes this a winner for me, is that like Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, even if it is a heavier drama North and South is the right combination of social commentary, tragedy and a beautiful love story of compromise and tolerance… plus it doesn’t hurt that Richard Armitage is easy on the eyes.