North & South (2004): A Beautiful & Authentic Romance


There are many things British drama does better than American. Once of them happens to be adapting the classics, another romance. This beautiful BBC miniseries isn’t about the north and south as those of us across the pond recognize the division, but is nonetheless a story about social classes and their differing ways of life. north & south 2004

North and South (2004) BBC Review

The quiet, simple beauty of the south holds Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) and her heart captive. Done living among London society as companion to her cousin, Margaret is ready to return to her simple country life where her father (Tim Pigott-Smith) is a small parish cleric. Margaret hasn’t been home long before her father uproots his daughter and wife (Lesley Manville), and moves them to the north. Once there, Margaret finds herself trying to fit into the industrial busyness of a harsh climate, and at every turn she seems to fail.

Among the Hale’s new society is John Thornton (Richard Armitage), a prosperous self-made business man who runs a cotton mill. Mr. Thornton begins to take private lessons with Mr. Hale, who finds himself needing employment after he left the church over a personal conviction. As the fast pace of the North trips Margaret up, she finds herself an unwilling object of affection. Her life then turns upside down with a series of events she couldn’t have foreseen.

Given how long this costume drama has been on DVD and the numerous times I’ve indulged in re-watches, it came as a surprise to me that I’d don’t have a review singing its praises. When my mother suggested a re-watch one random Saturday afternoon, I was eager and all in. I became immersed again in a world that though familiar, I’d been apart from for far too lengthy a time. As the gorgeous familiarity of the opening scene plays, I was lost to a world that was both, beautiful and complex, dark and happy.

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If you haven't seen this BBC #perioddrama, you've missed meeting one of literarys greatest heroes: Mr. Thornton! North and South (2004) – A Beautiful & Authentic Romance Click To Tweet
North and South 2005

Unlike some romantic dramas, North & South has mesmerizing depth that isn’t present in the fabric of so many romances. Romance aside (although due to its magnificence, I will revisit it in greater detail), this story is so much more than romantic entanglements. It’s about a woman’s coming-of-age journey (in a broad sense). It’s about a man experiencing life through the eyes of someone he loves; and the working-class people finding common ground with society’s hierarchy. It’s about unconditional love in more ways than one; and letting the sunshine coax you from the edge of despair in the light of the next day. It’s about love, happiness and beauty in the smallest of joys. north & south 2004

The script is written by Sandy Welch (BBC’s Emma, Jane Eyre and Our Mutual Friend) and directed by the then newcomer Brian Percival. (He went on to direct a handful of Downton Abbey episodes and the big-screen adaptation of The Book Thief.) In addition to the primary cast (who are all magnificent) including Daniela and the near-perfect leading man Richard Armitage; the cast also has Brendan Coyle (Downton Abbey), Anna Maxwell-Martin, Sinéad Cusack and Rupert Evans. Everyone is brilliant, and should have a gold star on their chart. They embody their respective roles wonderfully; and as romantic co-stars, we couldn’t wish for a better characterization than what Daniela and Richard bring to the roles.

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This leads me back to the romance, which I did say I’d talk about in greater length. Richard’s portrayal is flawless. The way he loves Margaret has a kind of Darcy vibe, but isn’t exactly the same. He’s has a greater capacity to express how he feels and the tenderness with which he falls for the opinionated Miss Hale is beautiful to experience. Margaret is a tougher character to find common ground with. I don’t know Elizabeth Gaskell’s intention for Margaret, but in this, she’s almost expressionless. She keeps a tight rein on her emotions; and it’s not until late in the four-part series that we realize the depth of her feelings.

Despite multiple re-watches since I bought a copy of this (back when costume drama DVD’s were pricey), I never realized how staunch Margaret is. Pulling a reaction from her (she’s passionate in conversation, but dull in expressions) sometimes makes me what to grab and shake her. Use more than words, Margaret. Let us see what you’re feeling. That said, another reason why there’s this gap between the two characters is to show the greater distance between their two cultures and “way of doing things.”

I suspect there isn’t a costume drama aficionado who hasn’t seen this. On the off chance that you haven’t, make haste. Beg, buy or borrow a copy of North and South (2004) with as much swiftness as you can. It’s as beautiful as you can imagine it being and the end? Let’s just say it rivals some of the greatest romantic scenes you can imagine.

About Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.


  1. <3 <3 I dearly love this costume drama! It's a favorite series! You have highlighted the best aspects, from the story having more depth than a typical romance to the brilliance of the cast and the beauty of the romance.
    From what I recall, Margaret is very similar to her character in the book. Though the book Margaret does have more emotion, and she is very influenced by her circumstance and subject to her mother's dramatics and her father's resolve to make a way in a new city. In the book, we see a little more of Thornton's turn-around in attitude toward the mill workers and the ways he can befriend them and make a difference to their livings.

    Oh, and in the book, we don't have the proposal from Margaret's father's good friend (I forget his name at the moment). I thought that was a bit awkward in the series.

    All this remembering my favorite parts is making me want to rewatch this! Maybe I will make an event of it and rewatch it over the winter with my mom!

    1. I like the sound of seeing more of how Thornton’s thinking is changed. I feel like, in the miniseries, it’s happens without us realizing. But then, it’s also romantic because in part, Margaret is who helps him to see this.

      I didn’t mind that part of the film (the proposal), but do understand where you’re coming from. His character is one of my favorites too, and I love that he takes care of Margaret because he does care not out of obligation.

      ME TOO! It’s been a little while since I re-watched it which is what inspired this review. Either way, I’m still in love with this one. It’s beautiful beyond comparison. :)

      So glad you shared your thoughts, Courtney!!

  2. I watched this about a year ago and really loved it. We just finished Cranford, another Adaptation of an Elizabeth Gaskell book. And a similar adaptation Lark Rise to Candleford. It was so well acted , with interesting characters. We loved it.

  3. I’m a new fan of your many great period drama reviews, your writing style is lovely! Thanks so much for your recommendations of North & South, Doctor Thorne, & Moonstone. I’ve gotten DVDs & can’t wait to watch them asap (couldn’t resist watching some short youtube videos of these, especially the 3 popular North & South scenes: “Look Back At Me”, proposal, ending scene at train station; Daniela/Richard are now my new favorite period drama couple already, lol). Think I recalled you wrote you also like Emma, Wives & Daughters, & Northanger Abbey, those are my favorites too. Keep up your good work, really enjoy reading your fantastic reviews.

    1. Hi, Tiffany! Thank you. I’m so glad to have you visit, and appreciate your kind comments/reading the reviews. I love to talk all the fangirl things, so visit anytime. :)

      ‘Doctor Thorne’ is SO sweet, and you’ve made me want to re-watch it. Yay for anything Austen, and of course “Wives and Daughters” is the sweetest. I have videos planned of some of my favorite period dramas / TV period dramas, but just haven’t put them together… yet! :D

  4. Hi Rissi: thanks so much again for your fantastic reviews of North & South, Doctor Thorne, & Moonstone, finally saw DVDs of all 3 – such pretty productions with lovely acting, but I really prefer North & South and Moonstone a bit more than Doctor Thorne, since I’m a lot more partial to N&S and Moonstone’s main couples’ chemistry, of course N&S has become a romantic classic with Daniela/Richard (swoon whenever they’re together + all their pining looks to each other, lol), but Moonstone’s Terenia/Joshua were so sweet (even when they’re still in their “tormented” stage in the middle, but especially the beginning/ending, they’re so loyal to each other, Terenia’s “I can’t tear you from my heart, even now” & Joshua’s proposal so romantic). I agree with you that Doctor Thorne does remind me somewhat of Wives & Daughters, but its main couple just didn’t have the romantic spark I was looking for (their chemistry felt more very sweet sibling to me, lol), Stefanie/Harry each did a great job, but both their characters were just way too nice they became borderline doormats to me, I kept waiting for a bit more spunkiness that never happened. Thanks again for your lovely website, which has been so much fun for me to read.

    1. Yes, “North & South” does indeed boast a beautiful love story. I first saw it years ago now, still haven’t tired of it. It’s a stunner for sure. To be honest, I don’t remember what I liked about “The Moonstone” (I saw the newest version), but did find it a good time. “Doctor Thorne” is just sweet, and something I easily binged. Nothing wrong with disliking the actors in terms of chemstry as a would-be romance. I’ve experienced that before too, and honestly, cannot remember my thoughts while watching it. I do know I loved the cute proposal, and now with your The Moonstone quotes you’ve made me want to return and re-watch it! :)

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