Why North and South isn't my favourite (You could also call it a Review)

I love the Elizabeth Gaskell movies. After the Jane Austen ones (which decidedly comes first), they are probably my favourites. My favourite of the three is definitely Wives and Daughters, and Cranford comes close next. And... the one which is left- North and South that is- well, I like it, honest I do, but it has never been 'wow' to me. It just isn't my favourite movie. It isn't even on my top-ten list. Or ten-top, whatever you like to call it.

In this post I'll tell you the reason why North and South isn't my favourite. You could also call it a review. (Yes, okay- you read this in the title.) Warning, there are spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen this and don't want to know what's going to happen, it would be advisable not to read on. And, another warning, there are strong opinionated opinions ahead, so be prepared. You know me, don't you. But of course, the comment box is happy to receive your opinions, even if they are different than mine.

Firstly, everything is so.... so black.
By saying 'black' I mean 'sad', 'weary' and 'not-very-joyful'. It is true- admit it. This is a very forlorn and melancholy film. To start with, there are seven deaths. Not two, like in Wives and Daughters (which was enough)- not four, like in Cranford (which was more than enough), but SEVEN.
1. Bessie Higgins
2. Boucher
3. Boucher's wife
4. The guy who Frank Churchill Frederick Hale pushed down the stairs
5. Mrs Hale
6. Mr Hale (at this point I am going crazy)
7. Mr.. what's-his-name... Margaret's godfather


So, needless to say, there are a vast amount of crying and wearing black and gloomy mourning scenes. And gruesome screenshots of dead people. (Boucher's death scene in particular is very not-Naomi-approved and the guy who got pushed down the stairs death scene as well).

Nine out of ten scenes have tears, black veils, suffering, crying babies, workers in rags or unhappy faces in them. I don't like any of the things I have just mentioned. Well, I don't really mind the black veil part- because black veils are rather elegant and they hide the tears and the unhappy face- but nevertheless, I am not particularly fond of black veils either. Ahem- I'm not talking about North and South. Sorry. 
Poor Margaret. Poor, poor girl. First she moves to a place rightly named after hell- Hellston. She sees a mighty handsome man with a mighty scary scowl beating a thin worker in rags.

She makes friends with Bessie- sees how her neighbours starve. She sees her good friend die, witnesses Boucher's gruesome death scene.

On top of all the unhappy things going in in that world, the Hale-family-atmosphere is melancholy as well. You heard that right.

Her mother and father argue. Her mother dies. Her brother comes and puts her in a heart-beating situation and forces her to choose between her brother's death or her breaking one of God's ten commandments. She chooses to break 'Thou shalt not lie' (I can't exactly say I blame her, of course) which again causes problems and makes her reputation with Thornton go in the negative direction. Because Thornton knows she lies.

Then, on top of that unhappy business- on top of all the deaths already past- her father dies. At this point, I think it's enough. At this point I'm literally dancing because of the this-goes-to-far-ness. Not dancing really- rather wriggling on the sofa and moaning softly, trying to restrain my complaints because people want to watch, but not managing to do so very successfully.

And then... guess what? Yep, you're right, her godfather (I still can't remember his name) says he's going to die. He probably knew because Margaret, he knew, would inherit his fortune and he also knew Elizabeth Gaskell would want to kill him off so that Margaret would have all the wealth in the end. (More about that famous ending later)

So... that's my main reason. This movie is like a funeral parade. One after the other. It's ridiculous.
In Anne of Green Gables, Diana Barry kills off all her characters in her stories because she doesn't know what to do with them. Perhaps Elizabeth Gaskell had the same problem.

Anne on how her friends write:
"It's extremely interesting," Anne told Marilla. "All the girls do pretty well. Ruby Gillis is rather sentimental. She puts too much lovemaking into her stories and you know too much is worse than too little. Jane never puts any because she says it makes her feel so silly when she had to read it out loud. Jane's stories are extremely sensible. Then Diana puts too many murders into hers. She says most of the time she doesn't know what to do with the people so she kills them off to get rid of them. I mostly always have to tell them what to write about, but that isn't hard for I've millions of ideas."


I have millions of ideas to redo North and South. Here are some of them:

~Bessie shouldn't die. Her not dying wouldn't affect the plot at all. Bessie should slowly fall in love with a nice guy and their romance should be left open, because that's a romantic thing to do.
~Henry Lennox should marry Miss Ann Latimore (Is that her name? I'm talking about the lady who's supposed to be Thornton's lover and who never talks and only nods and blinks.)
~Mrs Hale should get really ill, but she should recover because Mrs Thornton gives her some really expensive medicine. The two miraculously become best friends. Mrs Hale is sickly and fragile for the rest of her life, but she survives her illness and is happy to spend her time knitting in the rocking chair and talking with Hannah Thornton.
~Mr Hale should NEVER die.
~At the end of the story Mr and Mrs Hale buy Milton cottage back and live their happily ever after. Mr Hale starts a school which becomes amazingly popular.
~Margaret's godfather- what's his name?- should do what he did in the movie, because Margaret needs to end with the mill. That's an epic idea, and I like that.
~The guy who dies because Fred Hale pushed him down the stairs (his name as also escaped my notion) should die too, because that's where the plot starts to be really exciting.
~Boucher should not die. Boucher's family should end happy and richer. Thornton and Margaret must help them. All should end well for the Bouchers. Period.
~Thornton and Margaret go on a honeymoon to Spain, and visit Frederick and his fiancée.
~Fanny Thornton gets triplets who scream their heads off. Fanny finally realises what she's be like to her mother and brother.
~Hannah Thornton changes her character and goes round with baskets to help the poor. She never loves Margaret as much as Thornton does, but she remains civil and learns to enjoy her presence.


Daniela Denby-Ashe didn't cry half as much as Margaret would have done. She always stared vacantly ahead. (Look back, look back.) She isn't exactly my sort of heroine. She's too cold, isn't funny enough, and doesn't smile enough. I suppose she doesn't because she's been placed in such a stikin' sad story, so it isn't her fault she doesn't smile.

But I thought she was a nice heroine. She was kind, friendly and cared for her neighbours. Not dazzlingly beautiful, but with very pretty features- a normal heroine, to whom many people could relate to. Of course, we would cry more than she did.

 I know he's acted by Richard Army-tart, or whatever his name is. I know he has good ruddy looks, those eagle-ish eyes which girls squeal over and that firm set jaw which is popular with heroes in books. I know he was good and amazing and went ALL the way to Milton to pick Margaret a flower. I know he helped Margaret even though he knew she had lied. I know he loved quietly.

Quietly? Did I say quietly?
No. Mr Thornton says what he wants. He raises his voice unashamedly. That's not bad you know, but I think he gets too rough and too loud sometimes. Especially in the beginning he's far to harsh against his workers. Also- the smile-issue. He, like Margaret, hardly ever smiles.
He scowls too much- and even at the end he's a tad rude. Do you know what he said to... MR BELL! That's his name!! He said something like 'Go away and mind your own business.' And that was right at the ending. People compare Mr Thornton with Mr Darcy, but Mr Darcy is nicer than Mr Thornton. He's a little rude in the beginning, yes- but at least he doesn't scowl. He doesn't smile either, he just looks- like Margaret, as a matter of fact. Mr Thornton really scowls. And Mr Darcy improves rapidly- Thornton still says silly things at the end.
Anyway. He was a nice hero- but seriously, he's not at all my ideal. He was tolerable, but just not for me.
Besides, he lacked wit. I like wit.

Let me quickly overview some of the other characters.

I really loved Bessie. She had some funny lines, and a sense of humour, which I love to see in movies. She was so sweet, and I really don't understand why she had to die. She doesn't have anything to do with the plot, so I don't see why Elizabeth Gaskell had to kill her off. I also love her younger sister, Mary- although she plays a very minor role, she's one of my favourite characters.
Mr Higgins aka Mr Bates, was a very good man, but- like Mr Bates- he was too bloodthirsty and always seeking revenge. But I can't help but like him. My favourite bit in the entire movie was when he and Thornton become friends. Oh me, I just love that bit.
Boucher was... well, I pitied him SO much. He was just such a poor, poor man.
Hannah Thornton was such an annoying character. Firstly, her low voice drived me crazy. Secondly, she was selfish and grumpy. I did like it how she loved her son, but really- he was the only
person she loved, together with herself. I didn't like her.
Fanny Thornton, however, is entirely a different subject. I thought she was hilarity itself... I just loved all the scenes with her. She bought some laughter and silly-ness in the movie, and I liked that. I love this quote of hers: I see you don't have a piano. I don't know how I could live without a piano.
Mrs Hale (who also acted Mrs Rose in Cranford) complained too much. Also- the not-smiling-issue comes back here. She hardly ever smiled. I don't dislike her, but I must say I wouldn't like to have her for a mother.
In the beginning I didn't care much for Mr Hale, but as the movie went on I thought he was extremely kind. Yes, I like him a lot. When he died... ARGH.

And finally, I have to bring you sad tidings (I'm sure you're used to that if you've seen North and South, heehee) by saying that I did not enjoy the ending. I've seen it twice, and both times I squirmed instead of swooned. Both times all my siblings watching with me yelled and laughed at the exaggerated kiss. Both times we all agreed it was 'over-the-top'.
Watch it here and then read my humble comments:
(sorry it's without any talking- it's just the soundtrack and the video clip. They don't talk much anyway, so you don't miss much.)
So... first he goes allll the way to the cottage to pick one yellow flower to show Margaret. He picks it up and stares at it as if he can see Margaret's reflection in it. I personally think it's a trifle weird, but I still thought it was sweet, that. And it works, Margaret gets all warmed up and starts to realise that Thornton is the guy for her. They all get worked up because of one little flower- amazing, that.

Firstly, WHY IS THORNTONS SHIRT OPEN?!? It annoys me so much that Mr Thornton's shirt isn't buttoned up! Talk about historical accuracies people! A man of his status would never walk into public like that.

And then that kiss... I think it's just over the top.

Then they both go in the train. He kisses her again and again, Margaret gives a tiny hint of a smile as she stares vacantly out of the train window and... SNAP. BLACK. *Passionate violins start to burst forth*

The film is over.

I want a wedding. I want a proposal. And I didn't get either. I just got a great, big, mushy kiss in which the hero has his shirt buttons open and in which the heroine doesn't smile. Yes, I suppose that's popular nowadays, but I want to know. Are they engaged and I want to see them married. And I don't. And that's why I'm not satisfied with the ending.

I can imagine this is their wedding. But it's hard because neither of them are smiling. SIGH.

But! I DO like this move a great deal! I never said I didn't! It has some great scenes, great issues, great themes, great scenery, great characters, great quotes and great costumes in it. It's a great Period Drama, and I do like it a great deal. I'm getting tired of the word 'great' aren't you?
I would gladly watch this film again. I enjoyed and I do recommend it for Period Drama lovers. It's not my favourite- there are many better P D's- but I do like it.


  1. Have you read the book? It's another on my list! Is it as sad as the movie (that I haven't seen)? I didn't even get a minute into that ending because it did seem slow ;) Wives and Daughters wasn't that sad! Molly and Richard smiled at least!

  2. Bahaha!! I loved this review!!

    Personally, North and South is one of my favorite stories. I won't get on a soap box or anything, but you're right -- it is black. Yet in one word of defense, life in Milton is black. Think about the factories. Have you ever heard a happy factory story?

    But your ideas!!! Fanny has triplets? I WANT THAT! :D And Bessie... aw, yes. If she didn't die, I'd want that for her. *nods* Yes, they should go to Spain, because I want to meet Fred's girl (hopefully she's not anything like Jane Fairfax).

    YOU LIKED FANNY??? *instant new best friend* Everyone I know hates her, but I think she's hilarious!! "Oo-oh, Miss Hale!" // "John is such a stick in the mud!" // "I was SO scared, John, I almost FAINTED!" :D And the scene in which she's playing the piano and singing in the background is awesome. You only ever see Thornton, but his eye roll is the best!

    THE. KISS. Don't get me started. The book's ending was much better. I'm not a fan of mushy kisses, so that last scene, to me, was awful. In the book (if I remember correctly), she does get a proposal, but the last lines are Margaret and John making a joke and referencing back to his mother. EPIC. No kiss, no unbuttoned shirt collar, no train. Much better. Did we mention how unseemly it would be for a young woman to be traveling in close companionship with a man to whom she was not married? *cough*

  3. Ashley,
    Yes, I've read the book and I did like it. Of course, the people do die there but somehow it's far less gruesome because you can't see it, you just read it.

    Your comment made me so happy!
    I KNOW Fanny should have triplets! Yep indeed, I like Fanny a lot! I'm so glad you do too- I always thought I was the only one :-)
    YAY YOU AGREE WITH ME ON THE KISS!!! I'm so glad :-)


  4. Hey Naomi! Great post. Loved the bold-type and embellishment:-)
    I love North and South, but it;s not my favourite Gaskell movie, have you read the book? Milton is pretty dark.....and the ending was sort of disappointing. Meh. Fanny has to be my favourite character: "OOH! Miss HALE!"

  5. What an interesting post! I really liked how you described why you didn't like N&S and I can definitely understand you. (I do really like it, BTW)

    Elizabeth Gaskell's stories where in general quite bleak (Even in W&D there's some death), but then she was an author who was very much writing to show social misstandings and often wrote about oppressed people. I don't know if you've read her (non-adapted) works Ruth and Mary Barton? If you've read those, you'll think N&S a happy story indeed... (Though Ruth has a really great story and is definitely worth reading, despite the bleakness)

  6. Soo that's who Richard Armitage is! XD *melts* hehe just popping in briefly and now I must away.. toorah!

  7. Okay, so I'm back to comment on this because I just finished watching it! I actually think it's my favorite period drama, but that's because I need a little grittiness/action and this had plenty of that!

    The ending did start to get a little depressing...
    Boucher's death was creepy. (And I liked him :( )
    Mr. Bell's death probably made me the saddest. I like him so much!! It was the last straw!

    Yes, Henry Lennox and Ann Latimore!!! Please!!!
    Yes, all should end well for the Bouchers!!
    Thornton and Margaret's honeymoon!!! YESSSS!!

    Margaret was nice. I don't like her as much as Molly, but they had different circumstances.

    I felt the smile issue with Mr. Thornton a lot!!
    I think Mr. Bell deserved that "Go away" because he was kinda meddling? Yes, I did like Mr. Thornton, not as somebody to know in real life, but someone to read about and watch.

    When Higgins and Thornton become friends is the bestest!!

    I did not like Mrs Hale. At all. However, I loved Mr. Hale!

    Okay, that kiss was WAY over-the-top. It was really close up too... But the ending still makes me smile. I know it's not all correct and everything, but it makes me smile :) I want a wedding scene too!!!

    So yeah, I have to disagree with you on this one: N&S is my current favorite. But I'm watching Little Dorrit right now so that might change soon.

  8. Ashley,
    OH! You saw it!
    Thank you so much for the long comment. I DO love North and South--- honestly. I totally understand how it's your favourite period drama - it's epic and deep. It's just not... not *my* favourite, haha.
    Oh!!!! You are watching Little Dorrit!!! Which reminds me... I have to finish that review. :-)


Spam comments are lame. I got SO many of them I had to disable Anonymous comments. (Sorry nice Anonymites)

Anyway. Other comments = I LOVE YOU. :-)