Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1854 novel, North and South tells the story of how Reverend Richard
Hale moves his family from the (traditional) south of England to the (industrial)
north after he loses his curacy due to “matters of conscience.” Living at
reduced means with a sickly wife, Mr. Hale tutors young pupils and even gives
lessons in Latin to John Thornton, overseer of a large cotton mill.
One of the main story lines is how Hale’s genteel daughter, Margaret, adapts to this new reality. Members of Milton's upper class are suspicious of her father’s mysterious departure from the ministry and do not welcome her into their circle. She reaches out to several factory workers, but they misunderstand her overtures of friendship. It is delightful to watch her grow as she stumbles along (yet persists) in building relationships under these difficult circumstances.
story, but a no less crucial one, is about the dynamics of power. Are all the
factory owners villains who care only for money and not a bit for the laborers? Do the workers have a right to strike for better wages? In our present-day understanding (relying heavily on a “critical theory mood”), there are only two
categories: the oppressed and the oppressor. No “master” can ever be right. And the oppressed can never be wrong. I was stunned by the deft, nuanced handling of
these subjects in this film. It would have not been made in the same way today.
the love story, which, though central to the narrative, was understated, simmering
just below the surface for the most part. I love a story of unrequited love
(don’t ask me why!) so the fact that it took four hours for the romantic misunderstandings
to be resolved was fine by me. I also appreciated that the lead characters were
not over the top good-looking. He was a little too hawk-nosed and she a little
too plump by Hollywood standards, yet they were perfection in their respective roles.
I am not sure where this can be streamed (maybe Brit Box?), but we found it on DVD and were so glad to have discovered it. Now I may have to go back and re-read the novel!