Finding a new “Pride & Prejudice”…

June 7, 2009

It is no secret that I am ardent fan of British television, no more than it is a secret that I adore period dramas. And when these two lovely categories intersect…oh, that produces a little thing called LOVE. Well, at least temporary OBSESSION. The best possible example of this intersection is the BBC’s seminal 1995 mini-series of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Starring a fantastic (and perfectly cast) Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie and THE Darcy of them all (also perfectly cast), Colin Firth, this version is uniformly praised as the height of book to film adaptations. And, for me, it is 5 hours of absolute bliss. Besides flawless casting (well, very nearly), beautiful scenery and costumes, and a faithful screenplay, this series can truly pride itself on its well-balanced story-telling, producing chapter after chapter of delicately unfolded plot with enough drama and suspense to engender faithful viewship of the whole set.

Faults are so few in the BBC’s Pride (but not nonexistent…I’m talking about you, 80’s style semi-transparent Colin Firth head appearing in Lizzie’s carriage window) that it is so very difficult for viewers, such as I, to find any alternatives to it that provide such a satisfying historical-romantic-epic experience.

And yet, I have to admit, I have found a new obsession. Introduced to me nearly two months ago by Christina and Shyla, I am speaking of the BBC’s newest mini-series drama, North & South. [Newest is perhaps a relative term. Released in 2004, the production quality has upgraded since Pride.] I watched the series in one go with Christina while enjoying delicious snacks from Vanessa’s Dumpling House. Little did I understand that, four hours later, I would be absolutely in love with this production (and happily full from several orders of dumplings!).

Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton in "North & South"

Richard Armitage as Thornton in "North & South"

I understand this may appear as sacrilege to the masses of P&P fans out there. How can anything appear to replace Firth’s lake scene or the oddity of Mr. Collins? I do not claim that it can. They are independent of one another and fill separate niches in the  movie-adoration section of my mind. And yet, they are so very similar, both treading on the same terrain. Two young people meet, detest, and slowly fall in love with one another. Throw in an awkward (but incredibly fun to watch, learn, and recite with friends) proposal scene mid-series, a detached-acting (tall, dark, and handsome) would-be male lover, worries about money and reputation, and there you have it. Even the titles have a similar ring about them.

So why do I recommend it so? If it only copies Austen, what is the point?

Well, it is certainly hard to explain. To outline the plot shortly, I’ll use the help of IMDB:

“At the heart of the series is the tempestuous relationship between Margaret Hale, a young woman from the south who finds herself uprooted to the north, and John Thornton, a formerly poverty-stricken cotton mill owner terrified of losing the viability of his successful business. Around them are class struggles between the workers and mill owners and ideological struggles between the industrial North and the agrarian South. After moving North, Margaret’s father befriends his student, Mr. Thornton. Margaret has already formed her opinion of Mr. Thornton independently after seeing him treat his workers harshly. As the series progresses, she begins to learn that his strict treatment is due to an overarching concern for his mill and, by extension, his employees. John Thornton, on the other hand, is attracted to Margaret’s independence and position in society as a well-educated Southerner. As in “Pride and Prejudice” the marriage proposal comes in the middle of the series and is rejected by Margaret. Contrary to “Pride and Prejudice” it is mirrored in social upheaval as the entire town is brought to its knees by a strike. The latter half of the series is an unraveling of the former misunderstandings ending in a romantic reconciliation which is again mirrored by reconciliation between workers and mill owners.”

Things I love about this series are:

  • The score is absolutely beautiful…granted it becomes a little repetitive if you watch the series in its entirety in one instance. Still, closing chapters with that noxious melody is a wonderful choice and brings such amazing power to moments like Margaret’s “I’ve seen hell, and it is white. It is snow white.”
  • It was very skillfully adapted from Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel. While not entirely faithful to the original, it carefully finds the right moments to connect and cut. Now that I have read the novel, I adore it more than the series itself. But I believe that the screenwriters have been absolutely right in many of their cuts and additions. As has often been noted, Ms. Gaskell’s demanding boss, Charles Dickens, forced her to write her chapters very quickly. As such, the screen adapters hoped to fill in little gaps that they imagine she would have with more time. And I am actually ok with their fill-ins.

    Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret in North & South

    Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret in "North & South"

  • Richard Armitage aka Mr. Thornton. He fits the Mr. Darcy bill quite well. He easily acts the defiant, brooding master that finds trouble in conveying his true emotion to Margaret. And he effortlessly fills the typical romantic hero mold in terms of looks.
  • Margaret has some great lines in this series. Her refusals to proposals are quite hilarious.

While it is natural to have issues with a series of this scope, I feel as though the entire package outweighs any cons I could produce. I just love it, and I have watched it countless times already. Props to YouTube for its (presumably) illegal showing of the entire series.


2 Responses to “Finding a new “Pride & Prejudice”…”

  1. I really sympathize with you and your obsession. To choose between Mr Thornton and Mr Darcy is not easy, I must admit. Anyhow, If John Thornton has Richard Armitage’s voice and eyes, I HAVE NO DOUBT. I wrote a post in my blog: MR THORNTON VS MR DARCY and my blog mates commented and chose … DARCY! But since I saw “North and South”, Mr Darcy has turned into something like a teenage crush, far in my past. If you want to have a look at my post…

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