Thursday, December 30, 2010

Life in a Northern Town

I recently became obsessed enthralled with the BBC production North & South. I read the book before watching it, and I think they did a splendid job bringing it to the screen. The book, interesting as it is, could get a bit, well, Victorian at times. You know, when the author starts going on about religious feeling or the fine points of the heroine's emotional state, or someone is dying from a mysterious disease and you never know what, but they are long-suffering and so on. Actually, Gaskell isn't treacly the way Dickens can be, but sometimes you wish there were a little less circumlocution. Screenwriters have to cut to the chase and keep the plot moving.

The plot, in a nutshell, is that Margaret Hale and her family move from southern to northern England and experience culture shock. The North is dark, dirty, industrial, ruled by factory owners who seem more interested in profit than their workers. Workers are growing agitated. Margaret's father is tutoring one of the mill owners, Mr. Thornton. At first Margaret and Mr. Thornton are at odds with each other, but of course that changes. And it being a Victorian novel written by a woman, events unfold in a way that lands the heroine with all the money and power, able to act as an independent agent, while the hero has lost everything. Ah, romance. I love the Victorian era. The Industrial Revolution changes the landscape entirely - from the actual physical topography to the social, economic, and class structure. It's the boom before the bust, though of course it was always a bust for the children working in factories and those dying from breathing in cotton dust.

Besides finding the leads very pretty to look at (and oh my are they), I think the cinematography is general is beautiful, and the soundtrack is gorgeous. I love the way the main melody changes over the course of the series. Also, they did something to the heroine's makeup that is completely un-Victorian, but it makes her glow.

There's a scene at the end of the first episode that made a particular impression on me. Margaret is expressing her despair at living in this harsh Northern mill town, "I believe I've seen hell. It's white. It's snow white." Then we are inside a Victorian cotton mill, cotton fluff floating through the air like snow. And the music, oh it's just perfect.

Isn't that beautiful?


  1. absolutely beautiful, thanks for sharing. i've seen the production but not watched it. i'm going to read the book now (always loved gaskell) and then the movie...looking forward to it. happy new year to you and yours, dear karen! worst alice like EVER ;-)

  2. Not a drama I enjoyed, I have heard the book is better - what do you think?

    Many thanks for all your comments over the year Alice, I apprecite your support, my best wishes for 2011 to you and yours.

  3. Marcus, I don't meet many people who read Gaskell. I plan on starting Cranford soon.

    Petty, in this case I thought the series was better than the book, or perhaps I should rephrase that to say that the series successfully packaged a Victorian novel into something more easily digested by a modern audience. They gave it a life that a lot of readers can't seem to imagine into the novel.

  4. I Love, love love this movie. I own the Gaskell movie collection, but this one is amazing. I want to read the day.

  5. Like a Child: Thanks for dropping by. I know there is a Cranford miniseries; are there more? I enjoyed the book. I love Victorian literature, but I think the series made it more palatable to modern ears.