The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Thursday, 23 February 2012

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell on DVD

I totally loved this BBC series back in 2004 when it was first aired on TV. I remember being entranced by it for lots of reasons right from the first episode. I love a good costume drama, good Sunday evening fare before work on the monday, and Mrs Gaskell has provided us with lots of excellent material which have successfully translated to TV. In the last few weeks I have watched and enjoyed it all again.

This 4 part drama was on some time before Cranford hit our screens, a love story between Margaret Hale, the daughter of a clergyman from the south of England and John Thornton, a mill owner from the northern town where Margaret moves to after her father gives up the cloth.

At first Margaret struggles to adapt to the dirty industrial town, finding it course and savage, and judges its inhabitants hastily, especially Mr Thornton whose rough justice at the mill offends her. When a strike is looming across the town, all of them are involved with many lessons heeded on all sides.

I found myself rooting for both of these characters who misunderstand each other greatly at first. This adaptation is filmed with beautiful shots and costumes. It was the scenes inside the cotton mill that stayed with me the most, and all of the parts are cast brilliantly. The two main characters, played by Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage are compelling as are all the supporting characters played by Brendan Coyle (now in Downton Abbey), Sinead Cusack, Tim Pigott Smith and Pauline Quirke. After watching this series 8 years ago I went and bought the book and enjoyed the story all over again.

I have another reason to remember this series with such was largely responsible for me researching my family tree. I was so entranced with the mill workers and industry in the series I had a voracious need to find out what my own ancestors did. No mill workers, but being from Liverpool there were lots of Dock workers, several generations of cork cutters, quite a few farmers who moved to the city in the early 19th century, a gun smith, some railway workers, merchant sailors and an Ostrich Feather Dyer. The more exotic jobs are fascinating, but it was the ordinary industrial workers that I related to most, especially as many of the buildings and landmarks can still be seen around Liverpool from way back, linking us to them. I have learnt such a lot, about the history and social history that my ancestors were involved with, and how I fit in with it all. On watching the series recently I could feel my need to take up my research again. I have continued my family tree since I originally saw this series back in 2004 with huge rewards.

This is a lovely story, emotionally involving and memorable. The music of the series also deserves a mention, adding a lot to the period and the feel of the drama. The novel and the TV series (now on DVD) are highly recommended, and the TV adaptation is particularly special to me.

You can read more about North and South on the BBC by using the link.

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