‘North and South’ revisited: A look back at Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel on TV

First came the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, renowned for Wives and Daughters and Cranford.

North and South was published in 1854 in serialised form by Charles Dickens himself, following the publication of his own Hard Times in the previous months in Household Words.

It tells the story of Margaret Hale, a clergyman’s daughter being uprooted from the quiet splendour of Helstone, the epitome of a village in the south of England.

She finds it hard to accommodate herself to the harshness of the climate, the industrial fumes and the language and social habits of the people of Milton, here symbolising Manchester and other cotton mill towns in the north of England.

The novel was acclaimed in its time, not only by Elizabeth Gaskell’s personal dear friend, Charlotte Brontë herself, but by the likes of George Sand. It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, that Elizabeth Gaskell’s true genius in portraying a young woman of sense and beauty and the social realities of the times was truly recognised.

North and South has been adapted several times by the BBC, first in 1966 with Wendy Williams and Richard Leech as the leads, then in 1975 with Rosalie Shanks and Patrick Stewart.

Most recently it was brought to the screen in 2004 with Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage as Margaret Hale and John Thornton.

Fans of British period dramas will love that version in which John Thornton appeared as a worthy descendant of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Margaret Hale clearly as a relation of Elizabeth Bennett’s.

The BBC’s 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice paved the way for the success of North and South.

Misunderstandings and misconception (pride and prejudice, might we say), the consequences of  a mutiny akin to that of the Bounty, a strike and social unrest, ill health affecting the poor and the rich alike, the birth of Victorian England, sorrow, grief, jealousy and passion – all the ingredients are available for the viewer to enjoy the show!

Reviewed by guest writer Gaëlle Jalla.

North and South is available on DVD on Amazon.