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North and South
North and South British DVD cover
Format Costume drama
Written by Elizabeth Gaskell (novel), Sandy Welch (writer)
Directed by Brian Percival
Starring Daniela Denby-Ashe
Richard Armitage
Sinéad Cusack
Jo Joyner
Composer(s) Martin Phipps
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 4
Producer(s) Kate Bartlett
Running time 235 min. (4 parts)
Original channel BBC One
Original run 14 November 2004 (2004-11-14) – 5 December 2004 (2004-12-05)

North and South is a British television drama serial, produced by the BBC and originally broadcast in four episodes on BBC One between November and December 2004. It follows the story of Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe), a young woman from southern England who has to move to the North after her father decides to leave the clergy. The family struggles to adjust itself to the industrial town's customs, especially after meeting the Thorntons, a proud family of cotton mill owners who seem to despise their social inferiors. The story explores the issues of class and gender, as Margaret's sympathy for the town mill workers conflicts with her growing attraction to John Thornton (Richard Armitage).

The serial is based on the 1855 Victorian novel of the same title by Elizabeth Gaskell. It was adapted for television by Sandy Welch and directed by Brian Percival. Despite their initially low expectations, the BBC was surprised with the positive audience reception, which compelled them to release the series on DVD on 11 April 2005.



Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) and her parents Maria (Lesley Manville) and Richard (Tim Pigott-Smith) move to the fictional industrial town of Milton, Darkshire, in the north of England because her father, a clergyman, decides to leave the Church of England and become a Nonconformist. Thanks to his friend, Mr Bell (Brian Protheroe), he is able to find a house and gains employment as a private tutor. One of his pupils is local mill-owner, John Thornton (Richard Armitage), who gets off to a bad start with Margaret when she witnesses him beating up a worker whom he has caught smoking in the mill. Gradually, Margaret gets used to Thornton, but his mother Hannah (Sinéad Cusack) and sister Fanny (Jo Joyner) disapprove of her, believing her southern ways haughty and alien to the customs of the North. In the meantime, Margaret attempts to do charitable work among the working classes, and thus comes into contact with Nicholas Higgins (Brendan Coyle) and his daughter, Bessy (Anna Maxwell Martin), whose health has suffered from the effects of working in the mills. Margaret learns that, when Bessy became ill at Hamper's Mill, her father moved her to Marlborough Mills, Thornton's mill, because the working environment is better. In a separate meeting with fellow mill owners, Thornton says he has a wheel for ventilation in all of the rooms of his factory, despite the fact that it costs a great deal of money. The other industrialists have refused to install a wheel because of the expense.

Margaret notices that her mother is becoming ill, and that she has been seen by a doctor several times. Mrs Hale insists that she wants to see her son before she dies. Margaret is aware that her brother was involved in a mutiny and that he cannot return to England without risking his life. However, without telling her father, Margaret writes to her brother Frederick (Rupert Evans) in Cádiz, Spain, to tell him that their mother is dying. Margaret calls on the Thorntons to ask to borrow a water-bed for her mother and is trapped while mill workers riot during a strike. When the angry mob threatens John's safety as he attempts to calm them down, Margaret defends him from the rioters and is injured in doing so.

Margaret recovers and returns home, never telling anyone about what had happened at the Mill, mainly to protect the health of her mother. When Thornton proposes to her the next day, she scorns him, thinking he believes himself superior because of the difference in their financial circumstances. He denies this and tells her that he is in love with her, but she cannot bring herself to believe him.

To provide a distraction for Mrs Hale, and for herself, Margaret visits the Great Exhibition with her Aunt Shaw, her cousin Edith and Edith's husband. Margaret meets Thornton at the exhibition, where he is discussing the machinery with a group of gentlemen, all of whom are listening with great respect and admiration for his simple good sense. Margaret is embarrassed to meet Thornton so soon after her rejection but defends him when Henry Lennox (John Light), Edith's brother-in-law and an admirer of Margaret, tries to belittle him for being in trade. Henry's sophistication and reliance on fashionable wit and sarcasm compares unfavourably with Thornton's honesty when Margaret sees them together.

When Margaret returns home, her mother has taken a turn for the worse and might not live long. Margaret's brother arrives just in time to see his mother on her death-bed. While Frederick is still in the house, Thornton comes to visit his friend Mr Hale, but he cannot be allowed in, in case he sees Fred. Thornton interprets this as Margaret refusing to see him. The family's elderly servant, Dixon (Pauline Quirke), sees a former member of Frederick's crew in Milton town, and it is decided that Frederick must leave at once, before he is discovered and arrested. He and Margaret are seen together at the railway station by Thornton, who draws the wrong conclusion.

Thornton gives employment to Higgins after Bessie's death and master and hand get along surprisingly well, despite their differences. They come up with a philanthropic plan to feed the workers cheaply, and Thornton comes to a greater understanding with his workers as they share ideas. However, because of the problems caused by the strike, Thornton's business is in trouble, and he is forced to close the mill.

Margaret's father dies and she leaves the north to stay with relatives in London, but her godfather, Mr Bell, makes over his fortune to her when he find out that he has a terminal illness and chooses to move to Argentina, for the better climate. Margaret therefore becomes the owner of Marlborough Mills and John Thornton's landlord. Thornton, having discovered the truth about Fred from Mr Higgins, goes south to see Margaret's home town, and on the way back meets her returning from a visit to the north. She proposes a business deal by which the factory can be reopened, and their final love scene takes place on the railway station platform with both going "home" to Milton.


A spinning room in the Helmshore Mills Textile Museum.


Sandy Welch started adapting Elizabeth Gaskell's 1855 North and South in 2001, making a few changes to emphasise the industrial landscape of the story. Welch's story, for example, begins and ends with the main character Margaret Hale traveling by train, which are not the starting and ending point of the novel (although Gaskell describes the Hales travelling from the South to the North by train). Welch also made the main characters visit the Great Exhibition of 1851. These are changes Welch believed Gaskell would have done "if she'd had the time", since Gaskell had complained of being under pressure to complete the novel by her editor Charles Dickens.[1] In the summer of 2003 Kate Bartlett was brought to the project as a producer and a 10 week period of pre-production started at the beginning of February.


Daniela Denby-Ashe had not originally auditioned for the role of Margaret Hale but for that of Fanny Thornton,[2] and was not sure she would be participating on the project, but the producers had been looking for the right Margaret for a long time and Denby-Ashe's "directness, energy and charm" as well as the chemistry she had with would-be co-star Richard Armitage proved decisive. Armitage himself had been the first actor to read for the role of John Thornton and even though his performance had impressed producer Kate Bartlett and casting director Jill Trevellick, they still had to see many other possible Thorntons.[3] Three weeks after casting had begun, Trevellick decided to recapitulate the first auditions, realising that Armitage was "perfect".[1][4]


A Bluebell Railway wagon, similar to the one used on the final scene

Filming took place from the end of April 2004 until July 2004.[2] Gaskell's fictional town of Milton, Darkshire was loosely based on Manchester, but the producers decided to shoot many of the town scenes in Edinburgh, which maintains more of its visual and architectural heritage from the industrial Victorian era.[1] Keighley in West Yorkshire became one of the main locations, with the cotton mill's exteriors being filmed at Dalton Mill. The scenes that took place inside the mill were shot at Rossendale's Helmshore Textile Museum in Lancashire. London was another main location, with all of the interior scenes being shot at the Ealing Studios in West London and the Great Exhibition scene being shot at the Alexandra Palace in North London.[5] Other locations were Selkirk, a town in the Scottish Borders,[6] Burnley in Lancashire, and the Bluebell Railway in Sussex, were the final and the beginning scenes were shot.[2] Additional railway sequences were filmed in Yorkshire, using carriages provided by the Vintage Carriages Trust

Being a costume drama North and South required substantial work from the art department. In 2005 the serial's production designer Simon Elliot received a British Academy Television Award nomination for Best Production Design.[4]


Martin Phipps composed the score for North and South. The tune is a short piano composition which plays throughout the whole series in different rhythms. The music is especially loud and clear whenever there is a turning point in the relationship between Margaret and Thornton.[2][5]


Edinburgh's William Street on May 2004 adapted for North and South

As the BBC had low expectations for the series, it was not well publicised and went almost unnoticed by critics. Audiences, however, were more receptive; hours after the first episode aired in November 2004, the message board of the programme’s website crashed because of the number of visitors the site was receiving, forcing host to shut it down.[7] This sudden interest on the serial was attributed to Richard Armitage, a relatively unknown actor, whose portrayal of the emotionally restrained John Thornton drew parallels with Colin Firth's portrayal of Fitzwilliam Darcy on the BBC's 1995 mini-series Pride and Prejudice, and the reception he later received.[8][9] Armitage himself claims that the series was a success because of the "industrial landscape and the attention [that the series gives] to the working classes and they way they develop".[10] The reaction to the series was a surprise to the BBC, who then decided to release the DVD on 11 April 2005.[9][11]

North and South was voted "Best Drama" in the BBC drama website's annual poll in 2004.[12] Richard Armitage was voted "Most Desirable Drama Star" and "Best Actor",[13][14] Daniela Denby-Ashe was voted "Best Actress" (Sinead Cusack came in third) and three different scenes were voted as the year's "Favourite Moments", with the final scene winning the number one spot.[15][16]


  1. ^ a b c Shannon, Sarah (10 November 2004). "Love in a cold climate". The Independent. Retrieved on 23 March 2008
  2. ^ a b c d Bartlett, Kate; Percival, Brian and Welch, Sandy. Audio commentary. North and South. Dir. Percival, Brian. Perf. Daniela Denby-Ashe, and Richard Armitage. 2004. DVD. BBC DVD, 2005.
  3. ^ "Interview with Richard Armitage". Special feature. North and South. Dir. Percival, Brian. Perf. Daniela Denby-Ashe, and Richard Armitage. 2004. DVD. BBC DVD, 2005.
  4. ^ a b Staff writer (June 2007). "A Northern Tale". The DVD Collection.
  5. ^ a b "Backstage "North and South" - Soundtrack and Location information". Retrieved 23 March 2008.  
  6. ^ BBC Press Office (30 April 2004). "BBC ONE explores love across the social divide in an adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South". Press release. Retrieved on 26 April 2008.
  7. ^ Kinnes, Sally (30 April 2006). "Move over Darcey". The Sunday Times. Retrieved on 23 March 2008
  8. ^ Hall, Jane (23 December 2004). "Britain's newest heart-throb". Western Mail. Retrieved on 23 March 2008
  9. ^ a b Wark, Penny (13 April 2005). "In a swoon over me? Surely not". Times Online. Retrieved on 23 March 2008
  10. ^ "The Pat Marsh Show" - Interview with Richard Armitage (13 April 2005). BBC Radio Kent.
  11. ^ Ashworth, Anne (23 December 2004). "A dashing object of desire". The Times. Retrieved on 23 March 2008
  12. ^ "Best Drama". BBC Drama - Best of 2004. Retrieved 9 May 2008.  
  13. ^ "Most Desirable Drama Star". BBC Drama - Best of 2004. Retrieved 9 May 2008.  
  14. ^ "Best Actor". BBC Drama - Best of 2004. Retrieved 9 May 2008.  
  15. ^ "Best Actress". BBC Drama - Best of 2004. Retrieved 9 May 2008.  
  16. ^ "Favourite Moment". BBC Drama - Best of 2004. Retrieved 9 May 2008.  

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