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North & South, 1/4

I'm rewatching North & South. And I wanted to share the love, so I liveblogged it. But I had to pause for the screencapping. Because ... well, because. So here is my love. For little good reason other than because there is a LOT OF IT and I know one or two of you out there will enjoy it too. *shareshareshare*

(Running commentary, slightly edited to make some kind of damn sense, on the left, pics and additional comments on the right. SO MANY PICS. IT'S SO PRETTYYYY. Every shot is composed like a painting.)





Travelling. Brilliant opening; the railway tracks linking North and South, the arteries of industry, and immediately unsettling the story by giving a few moments of Margaret's gorgeous, confident face – composed and looking up and ahead – to become acquainted with her, and then zipping back to the brilliant warmth of a London party two months ago.



I love that Margaret is described as being classically beautiful in the book. I mean, I'm all for the irregular charm of Lizzie's Dark Eyes and Jane's Elfin Plainness and Scarlett's Not Actually Beautiful (yeah right), but I kind of just enjoy a heroine who the author is like, no, damnit, she's gorgeous, so there. And Daniela Denby-Ashe here has exactly the commanding but not flashy beauty of Margaret.


Oh, Aunt. Good grief. Thank you ever so much for the exposition and social commentary. Now do shut up.

Enter Captain Awkwardpants! I have shown this miniseries countless times to groups of my fellow college students, male and female alike, and the first time I ever did, one young man dubbed him this and it has STUCK, y'all.



No.

 
The lushness of it all (AND HER FACE). They do a really good job of creating very striking palettes for each of the three locations, London, Helstone and Milton, and what you're supposed to understand about the nature of each place and those who live in it. London with its colourful finery on display at an over-lively party; Helstone's stunning greens, rolling lands and dreamy repose; Milton's striking monochrome of bustle and purpose and energy. Plus the camera work. This was the first time I'd seen a period piece not shot like a period piece. This production, you guys. GUH. It's a visual FEAST.


Yeah. Still no. Although nice hat.


Due to his spectacular misjudgement of Margaret's offhandly candid comments, Henry visits her at her rural idyll of a home in order to propose. AWKWARD.

"Please – d-don't continue." I think you speak for us all, there, Margaret. *cringe*



What do you mean, "no"?


Oh, and then he bounces the burn back on her. "A London girl would have known not to talk of marriage in such ambiguous terms." WANKER. Look, Henry, I know you're embarrassed, but that right there? Is why you will never be The Guy. You Do Not Do That. Thornton misunderstood her too; but he didn't blame her for it.



Pictured: another planet.


"It's not another planet."

One of the things I ADORE about N&S is how very many elements of human drama it weaves into its story. The love story, sure, but amongst all that is the interaction of faith and religion, personal sacrifice and principle, independence and custom and value systems, class distinctions and character and friendship, social justice and socio-economic dynamics, the impact of the Industrial Revolution, the rise of the unions – and culture shock. The culture shock plays out perfectly in the narrative; to anyone who has never experienced it, let me assure you of that.

Gossip. Ooh, ouch. Well, that won't be the last time. Oh, and that wallpaper is hideous. I love that they include that bit from the book, even though it's only a brief mention in two scenes; Mr Thornton's first act on behalf of the Hales goes entirely unflagged. How very *him*.



... Darcy?


I love this first look at Thornton, because it so clearly has been been done knowingly – for two whole seconds he is proud, haughty, above it all. Darcyesque. And then it EXPLODES. "STEVENS!" He's yelling, chasing, beating a man with his bare fists. Oh, this guy is SO NOT Darcy.



Not Darcy!


And the first thing he does with Margaret is yell at her. The reason he takes no notice of the vivid-spirited heroine? Because he's BUSY (brutally so, but anyway). He's not standing around in ballrooms and drawing rooms being bored out of his mind because the company is beneath him. (I kinda LOVELOVELOVE Thornton, as may become apparent. I think the second I saw that character introduction, Darcy's wet shirt was on the way out.)

Dixon! Another thing I love about this story is that you end up caring about EVERYONE. With all their flaws. Also that everyone grows and changes; they are all humbled and learn from it and become more rounded people. So now even her high dudgeon and thoughtless complaining in front of Mrs Hale is endearing.



Dixon's complaints: invaluable for expositing context. Also, it really is hard to grasp how far they've fallen, not just in living arrangements but status, all of them, including her. Oh Dixon. *pinches cheeks*


Mrs Hale, now, took a while to warm up to. But there is sweetness amidst her frail delicacy – her shows of strength can only be shrill, and that's hard to swallow, but it's understandable. ("Godforsaken"! Gasp! It's kind of a cool note that the first instance of swearing is not from the uncouth North but from the presumedly genteel South.) Milton is a breaker-setting; not everyone survives the trial. Which is the painful truth. It is rough and tumble and impudent-bordering-on-dangerous. And it's nearly impossible to convey this household's absolute dependency on Mr Hale and his decisions in this day and age, how completely his actions determine their fate. Which he made without even discussing at all with his wife! And yet, as a "man of conscience", he doesn't translate well today either. Oh, this poor pair, to marry for love and yet not be strong enough to overcome the constraints of their place and time.



I could look at this for hours. Also, the labyrinthine streets and (seemingly) chaotic ebbs and flows of traffic (and Margaret's real fear, not realising she's "just" being teased) create a truly ominous vibe that fades away as she adjusts and learns to navigate Milton and its denizens, as it becomes home. ❤ Margaret ❤


NICHOLAS. THAT IS ALL.


Nicholas! \o/ – I actually can barely type while I'm watching him. Here he comes to her rescue, with some calm advice (in absolute advocacy of self-reliance, even while helping someone who needed it) and "no charge, Miss". Oh so gently (and proudly) letting her know she has just made an offensive cultural misstep (although he's perceptive enough to see she didn't mean to). Things are Different here in the North.



"My first real pupil!" Wooooooo


Second meeting of Thornton and Margaret. First he's this utter barbarian and now he can't decide between Aristotle and Plato. And so gets to work shredding her preconceptions, not that she lets go quickly. Their conversation is refreshingly direct, no polite prevarications; straight to the point. Their misunderstandings do not arise from that account (as they did in the polite society of Cpt Awkwardpants). They speak and answer absolutely honestly, immediately challenging one another. From the first they are equals, although I doubt whether they'd acknowledge that at this stage.

Ooh, and ding, the "gentleman" hot button. How carelessly she throws that off and how it stings him. OH MY HEART. *shivers*



Oh, and the graveyard. It's the only green place to walk in the town, it seems, and the characters just keep criss-crossing it throughout the story. You could unpack the symbolism of that for days. For now, let's call it multi-target-foreshadowing and move on.


Now Bessy. Who turns out to be Nicholas's daughter. This is a small world, for a big town. But whatever; the intimacy of the story is what makes it work. It doesn't attempt to sketch the broad strokes of the tensions; it follows four families who represent the different class strata and plays out the consequences of the conflicts on the most personal level.

Also, the first thing Nicholas does is reinforce Thornton's assertion that Stevens deserved to be beaten for what he did. (And they're right.) And once again Margaret discovers that good intentions alone do not translate and that customs communicate meaning. Yes, Margaret. It IS a different planet, and you are speaking different languages.



Fanny takes after the father, y/y? "Fathers and daughters, mothers and sons." It's interesting that it's those familial relationships that are more explored in the story, or at least seem to be established as the stronger generational relationships. Never really thought about the why of that aspect. Every time I watch this thing, I discover something new. \o/


Mrs Thornton and Fanny! OMG this is the most gloriously, quietly awkward scene ever. And watching it in mixed company is always fascinating – the girls just cringe and laugh away, and cue the guys on what's going on (meanwhile the guys are often having to verbally stick up for Thornton's actions with Stevens).

Oh, Fanny! Thank you for some comic relief. You are PERFECT. And you are one of the few characters (who survive) who don't change. For which I thank you.

Okay, and Mrs Thornton is so often received so badly by the people I've watched it with, but she really is incredible. When you consider what she went through – and how strong and principled she was throughout – it is her invaluable strength and integrity which makes Thornton see and appreciate Margaret's, make no mistake. He is mastered by neither of them – he is thoroughly his own man, and has been probably since the loss of his father – but has, properly, the very highest esteem for those qualities.



No, no, no, no and nononono. (Although I bet they had fun playing it.)


The male social scene. Ugh, these mill owners. And oh, Mr Hale's delightful, earnest naivety amidst these pragmatic, heartless businessmen. Yet his values and Thornton's line up in their practical outworkings, the first hint that their worldviews and ideology are at least compatible; without which no true relationship (friendship with Mr Hale, love with Margaret) is possible. Of course, it is the external expression which makes them seem so far apart; internally, they are already closer than it appears.



Stark contrast with the other two "visit" settings, but here is where Margaret finally is able to find an entrance into understanding Milton and its people. I'd hang out forever with the Higginses too if I could. I just want to cuddle little Mary.


Margaret makes good on her offer and goes to seek out the Higginses. Margaret's courage and openness are extraordinary. It doesn't come across to the easily-offended Northern sensibilities, but her egalitarianism is as strong as any of theirs. The fact that she offered to help Dixon with the chores until they could find suitable help alone is proof of that; the friendship and humour she finds with Bessy and then Nicholas is totally unstilted, once they get past the misunderstandings.

Boucher is introduced in the dialogue, the last of the four families we follow through the ups and downs of life and conflict in Milton. In retrospect, it's so ominous – the pronouncement that he's "holding up." *weeps*



THE CHEEKS PINCH THE CHEEKS SO CUTE *DIES*


Thornton's visiting with the Hales! \o/ His interactions with Mrs Thornton really do fill my heart with happiness. They love and trust each other so, from years of proving their character and faithfulness to one another through thick and thin. *huggles*

And then he's all embarrassed that his enthused technical conversation with Mr Hale has sent Margaret to sleep. Oh sweetie. She's tired. It's not your fault. Smoulder away, she'll notice in the end.



*SWOON* *DIES MOAR*


THE HAND FOCUS. This. Just. HANDS. I don't know that I have ever felt onscreen intimacy and physical contact to have been done as well as it is in this N&S. It is so astonishingly CHARGED, and delicate, and *flail*



"Well on behalf of Milton tastes, I'm glad we've almost passed muster."


And then he cracks a joke! I mean, you can't tell or anything apart from the tiniest sideglance at Margaret, but it's this little moment of self-deprecating humour and Margaret just has no idea how to take it because WHUT and this is the guy who pounded a worker into the floorboards right in front of her and humour is connection and damned if she's going to acknowledge that with him at this point because NO.


 


Whoops, Thornton disparages the South, and Margaret springs right into the fray. More challenging of misunderstandings and preconceptions, back and forth until Thornton quietly shares his history and it is there for the first time that Margaret cannot argue. Perhaps the "gentleman" sting has made Thornton eager to set forth his own defence, or perhaps it was simply the injustice of her accusation that his lofty position of mill owner meant that he knew nothing of hardship. Either way, she cannot deny him here; she is silenced, and humbled by the evidence of her unfounded presumptions.



HANDS. I JUST.


He offers his hand of friendship and she pulls back, and it's a beautifully ironic little echo that "I'm sure in London a gentleman would never have expected a lady to take his hand like that, all – unexpectedly." (The difference being, of course, that this was discussed after Thornton had left, in an attempt to understand "the rules of civility in Milton", not thrown in his face as evidence of his misleading/offensive behaviour.) She also acknowledges to her father that it wasn't out of despising Thornton's history; she is sensitive and sympathetic enough to (honestly) think it "very fine", unlike her mother's distress at such a tale. To have been dealt such a blow as his father's ruination and suicide at sixteen (and I love that it's Hale who gives that piece of information, not Thornton, who simply wouldn't do that), and to have worked his way back to wealth and respect, to have even paid off the creditors – this is evidence of extraordinary character she cannot deny. He is a hard man, yes, but she has misjudged the source of it.

"I'm sorry I'm so slow to learn the rules of civility in Milton." Oh, sweetheart. Culture shock is a bi-atch.


 

 
I love Thornton's consistent respect for the rights and freedoms of the worker, even if it costs him. I don't know if that's intrinsically part of his own integrity or whether that sense was developed as a worker himself and he could never shake it; probably both. And Higgins's determination that the workers win some kind of leverage against the power wielded over them. And both faced with dealing with their antithesis – Thornton with a dishonest mill owner, Higgins with a weak-willed worker. (Oh, Boucher. *clutches heart*)


Ah, the forment and turmoil as the masters and workers prepare to lock horns. They all know it's coming, no one is backing down. There is far too much to lose on both sides; this is a conflict that will grind down and destroy the weak, and humble the strong. Thornton the clear leader amongst the masters and he is utterly unbending; Higgins amongst the workers and oh, how he believes. Different workers spout off the complications involved in going on strike, and Boucher finally gets to speak the consequences for the weak in this pitiless death grapple. "If I turn out, we'll not be able to live on five shillin' strike pay from union. Me childrin – they'll starve."

Oh, Thornton. You just can't catch a break, can you? Assaulting the same weasel man in front of the same woman twice? And both times are both proportionate and justified, in a way that you absolutely cannot explain to her (yet)? You made yourself vulnerable enough to recount a difficult part of yourself and your life and made just a little headway (more than you thought, though) with this woman with her clear eyes and proud bearing and now here you are right back where you started in front of her.

Oh, Margaret. You are so lonely, bereft and confused and pained by the harshness that confronts you every way you turn, with no way to understand or engage it (yet). "I believe I've seen Hell, and it's white – it's snow white."



*FLAIL* OH MY HEART





North & South, 2/4
North & South, 3/4
North & South, 4/4

Comments

( 10 speakses — have a speak )
bitterlimetwist
Jun. 28th, 2012 09:12 pm (UTC)
This movie looks gorgeous. So many pretty, and interesting, shots.

I haven't seen the movie but I started reading the book a few years back, so I'm familiar with this part actually, but it was long enough ago that I don't remember it too well.

Anyway, this cool. I'll finally get to find out how it all played out, and with commentary to boot.

\o/
themonkeytwin
Jul. 2nd, 2012 02:10 pm (UTC)
Hey! I kept meaning to reply, and that would remind me that I'm 20 mins into the second episode and I should finish that first, and then I get distracted by everything else I haven't done, and so now I think I should just actually reply. I'm so glad I could give you the cheat notes on this lovely little story; I know my commentary is not going to come close to doing it justice, though. If I can inspire you to finish reading the book (or spend the four hours on the mini-series, which is honestly just as worthwhile), then I will be a happy woman.

*makes mental note to include more pics of Thornton smouldering*
workerbee73
Jul. 8th, 2012 03:15 pm (UTC)
I'm heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere!!!!!!

Finally, I am here/ And the screencaps are stunning and your thoughts are even better. **pets your wonderful marvelous, delightful brain**

I love what you said about Thornton being the anti-Darcy. I look at this whole series as being the anti-P&P. (I shotgunned it in the course of one Sunday off of youtube and once my eyes snapped back into focus from so many hours of looking at a computer screen I was thoroughly and utterly blown away. I remember telling my mom about it and trying to explain why she should watch and it telling her "It's just like P&P-- except it's gritty and raw and has lots of sex, drugs, and rock'n roll. Except of course for the actual sex, drugs and rock 'n roll BUT YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.")

And that's still how I feel about it. Everyone (save Fanny, bless) is so unbelievably three-dimensional and ever-evolving. It's so much more than a love story, and I think that's what makes the love story even better. It's all about the context. it's all about the bigger world and bigger ideas these two find themselves caught in. And the rest of the characters are just a feast. Nicholas!!! Mrs. Thorton!!! (And how can you not love Mrs. T? Yes, she gives Margaret a hard time but that woman is made of steel, and the trust and love between her and John is just.... **huggles them both** I adore her.)

I'm off to read part two now. Thank you for reminding why I love this series so much. **spins you about**
themonkeytwin
Jul. 9th, 2012 04:11 am (UTC)
Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!! *welcome-twirls you*

I look at this whole series as being the anti-P&P.

Oh, it totally is. It makes P&P look like one long tea party. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, but gimme the sexdrugsrock'n'roll anytime.) I was thinking as I was watching the proposal scene in the next bit, that it's her class prejudice and ungraciousness that's challenged by the exchange, even though she is still in the weaker financial position. And then of course at the end it's her rescuing him and it's all just TOO AWESOME.

So did you convince your mum to watch it? What did she think?

Oh, Fanny. Bless. But yes, everyone else is humbled and forced to confront the limitedness of their own views and grow and all their arcs feel natural to the characters, not forced. It really does anchor the love story so much better.

I think the (modern) reaction to Mrs T is that she's an overprotective and controlling mother, and granted she's not into overexplaining herself, so you have to be paying attention to catch her story. But it's such an amazing one! I adore her too. (Also, don't tell anyone, but I sekritly ship her and Nicholas. Sshhh.)

THERE IS SO MUCH TO LOVE. *spins and spins*
workerbee73
Jul. 9th, 2012 10:55 am (UTC)
I think the problem with P&P for me now is that the stakes don't feel high enough anymore, simply because this exists. And sometimes yes, all you want is the sugary tea party confection and that's fine, and granted Austen does manage to imbue her characters with more depth and interest than the usual rom-com, but the world is inherently claustrophobic and unchallenging. This is simply richer and deeper and more difficult in every possible way and I love that.

Oh yeah. My mom watched it and totally got it and I think she loves it more than P&P too. She's a bit of a period film connoisseur-- I just happened to discover this one first.

Also, don't tell anyone, but I sekritly ship her and Nicholas

OMG. I NEVER EVEN DREAMED SUCH A WORLD WAS POSSIBLE. WHAT IS THIS MADNESS/GENIUS???
themonkeytwin
Jul. 9th, 2012 01:41 pm (UTC)
the stakes don't feel high enough anymore, simply because this exists.

Yes, exactly. Austen's world IS claustrophobic, and even though the stakes for her heroines were (sometimes) their very economic survival – the alternatives being that they become detested and ignominious financial drains on their wider family, I suppose, and okay that sucks, but – it simply doesn't compare. The bodycount alone has to be higher than all six of Austen's works. But then, that was the Dickensian reality for you. And despite the mere fifty years difference between Austen and Gaskell, the Industrial Revolution world Gaskell is describing is also much closer to the social dynamics and economic stakes that we understand.

OMG. I NEVER EVEN DREAMED SUCH A WORLD WAS POSSIBLE. WHAT IS THIS MADNESS/GENIUS???

Welcome to ... MY SHIPPY BRAIN. *dun dun duuuuun* I will never be able to explain the weird alchemy that happens in my head when it comes to matching up characters (it's a sickness), but they just make ALL THE SENSE to me, somehow. She needs a Real Man, and Nicholas certainly fits that description. And can't you just SEE him flirting with her, and her effrontery (and secret enjoyment)? But most of all, I feel like they would respect the hell out of one another, if they ever actually met onscreen, which they don't. *pout* In my head, since they can't really get married, they carry on a largely non-physical affair until the Boucher's kids are grown up enough for him to accompany her on a belated but well-deserved tour of Europe, since Thornton and Margaret are well able to run the place without them.
workerbee73
Jul. 9th, 2012 03:15 pm (UTC)
In my head, since they can't really get married, they carry on a largely non-physical affair until the Boucher's kids are grown up enough for him to accompany her on a belated but well-deserved tour of Europe, since Thornton and Margaret are well able to run the place without them.


I wish to subscribe to this newsletter. Yes, yes I do.
themonkeytwin
Jul. 9th, 2012 03:52 pm (UTC)
Mmn, I'm anticipating many editions of UST and cheekiness and hard-to-get, with perhaps a sprinkling of special editions of finely-aged BOWCHIKAWOWOW.

I'll add you to the mailing list.
workerbee73
Jul. 9th, 2012 04:05 pm (UTC)
Don't forget FLIRTATION DISGUISED AS EPIC POWER STRUGGLES AND TALKING SHOP AS CODE FOR "I REALLY LIKE YOU. A LOT."
themonkeytwin
Jul. 9th, 2012 04:15 pm (UTC)
WHOLE ARTICLES DEDICATED TO IT.
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