Why I am Thankful for Period Piece Adaptations, Example One: North and South (2004)

Today, I am kicking off a special, four-part series in honor of November (the month to be thankful): Why I am Thankful for Period Piece Adaptations. Now to understand this series, you must understand the following: Hi, my name is Emily and I am a Period Piece Addict (a PPA, if you will). I do not just crave new adapations or just any adaptations. I long for honest and truthful works. When I find them I watch them over and over again until I lose track to how many times I have seen them. I put them on in the background when I craft, or write, or on a day I am under the weather. They are my comfort food, just as much as the books they are based on. Beautiful, wonderful masterpieces to be curled up with on a rainy day at home or on a picnic blanket in the park. Now that you understand that, we can dive into the world of dances, cravats, tea, relationship drama usually built on miscommunication or class division. There will be hardships, love, tears, and swoons.

Let us begin with North & South 

First off, we are not, I repeat not, referring to the Patrick Swayze civil war mini series North and South from the 80s (No offense to Swayze or Civil War fans - but its just not my top choice for period pieces). No, instead, we are talking about the 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South (Yes, you have heard me mention this one before in When to Turn it Up). The work by Gaskell was originally released in twenty weekly installments between September 1854 to January 1855 in Household Words, a magazine edited by Charles Dickens (oh yes, she was friends with Mr. Charlie Dickens. Impressed? No. Hmm, how about the fact he admired her gift of storytelling and called her his, “dear Scheherazade,” - who was the storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights. Together in their own right Dickens and Gaskell wrote and excelled at is now referred to as Industrial Novels / Industrial Fiction). Gaskell, like Dickens, wrote about life during Industrialization and the hardships that fell on certain classes in society. Gaskell, you could say, wrote what she knew (after her husband William encouraged her to write as a means to aid in her grief over her son that died in infancy). For example: Cranford was based on her childhood spent living with her Aunt in Knutsford, Cheshire after her mother died. Cumnor Towers in Wives and Daughters was based Tatton Park in Knutsford. And in North & South, Gaskell references her Unitarian beliefs and her experiences living in Manchester, a manufacturing town - a symbol of the industrial age, a combination of culture, intelligentsia, but also one of poverty and squalor.

The title page to my vintage copy of  North and South  (undated).

The title page to my vintage copy of North and South (undated).

The synopsis of North and South (without giving too much away) is as follows:

Margaret Hale at the beginning of the story has returned home, after her cousin and confidant Edith married a Captain (the Captain's barrister brother Henry was hoping to marry Margaret, but she refused him). Margaret is soon met with another shift in her life when she is met with the news that her father is leaving the church and moving the family from the sun and country air of Helstone to Milton, an industrial, gray, bleak sort of town in Northern England. Gossip abounds why her father has left his position with the church, her mother’s health is failing, she feels friendless, saddened by how the works of the mills live (especially her new found friends the Higgins family) and of course, she starts off on the wrong foot with not only Mr. John Thornton (the attractive, but stern owner of a local mill / a self-made man who knows how to wear a cravat or an upturned collar), but Margaret disappoints Mr. Thornton's mother as well. Yes, Mr. Thornton is a little too close with his mother, but I would not call him a "mama's boy" per se. He is a man who works hard and tries to do the honorable thing (avoids taking financial risks, has better working conditions than some other mill owners, etc).  

This is, of course, in the end a will-they-won’t-they story, but one peppered with important topics of the day: worker's rights, religious views, prejudice, etc. 

Now, yes, you should read this book, but you need, I repeat loudly, NEED to watch this adaptation. It was wonderfully cast (Daniela Denby-Ashe, Richard Armitage, Tim Pigott-Smith, Lesley Manville, Sinéad Cusack, Brendan Coyle, Anna Maxwell MartinBrian ProtheroeRupert Evans, John Light to name a few), has great set designs and cinematography to capture not only the industrial town of Milton, but the Great Exhibition in London and, of course, the green countryside life of Helstone. The adaptation also captures the spirit, dialogue, and integrity of the characters in Gaskell's North and South. Now for six specific (very visual) reasons that North and South deserves your attention and your time, not to mention a reason to be thankful this holiday season.


1. Cotton floating in the air is romantic (yes overexposure to floating cotton and poor conditions in certain mills can permanently damage your lungs, but it is very beautiful nonetheless).

2. Everyone wants to (or at least should want to) be friends with the likes of Anna Maxwell Martin and Brendan Coyle (who play Margaret's friends Nicholas and Bessy Higgins). 



3. Daniela Denby-Ashe will make you question if you want to be Ms. Margaret Hale over Elizabeth Bennet. You scoff, I say... think about it and you will know I am right. 



4. Richard Armitage's Mr. Thornton will have you wishing more "Mama's Boys" looked that good in cravats, not to mention top hats, tails, waistcoats, upturned collars, etc. Seriously, a moment to ponder: how does that man look so dashingly divine in period clothing?



6. The music sets the music tone (and oh the way it builds). You will be humming it for days.



WARNING! Now No. 6 has a few spoilers, so I plead with you: If you have not watched this particular adaptation, skip the rest of this post and, instead, go to Netflix, Amazon, or to you preferred venue (may I suggest the library as a viable option) and view this wonderful work immediately. If you have seen this adaptation, you may move on to the next section. Either way, I'll see you next wee for the second installment of Why I am Thankful for Period Piece Adaptations. This time with even more cravat action! Now, proceed with your previous instructions.


Last warning: Spoilers ahead!


6. For all the romantic, swoony-swoony-swoon, make your heart flip, and your feet float above the ground moments that are required of all good period piece adaptations