6 Reasons Why We Need a Remake of the BBC North and South (and one reason we don’t)

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Many period drama fans love the 2004 BBC North and South miniseries, but it fails Elizabeth Gaskell’s original novel. Here’s why fans of the book need a new definitive version.

Promotional image for BBC North & South with Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) looking at John Thornton (Richard Armitage)

Fifteen years ago Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1885 novel North and South may have been one of the best-kept secrets of Victorian literature. But when the BBC miniseries adaptation burst onto the screen in 2004, that pretty much changed forever.

The North and South TV serial has a wildly enthusiastic and staunchly loyal fanbase. I fully expected to join their ranks when I finally watched the series a few months ago. But I didn’t. In fact, I was bitterly disappointed by the first episode.

Fans told me to “wait and see,” and I did.

It got worse.

For years, friends had told me to read (or watch) North and South, but I put it off. Somehow I had the mistaken impression that it was a Very Long Novel. When about a dozen of my readers over at Richly Rooted strongly urged me to read the book and watch the movie, I finally complied.

The book had me spellbound.

Paperback version of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, with a pink and orange cover design.

I’ve read dozens of Victorian novels, but North and South pulled me through the pages as few have. You know you’re hooked on a book when supper comes and all you can think about is getting in bed with your novel to find out what happens next!

I had great expectations when I finished the book and popped the first disc of the miniseries into my laptop a few days later. I couldn’t wait to add my voice to the widespread acclaim.

There are some miniseries that are the worse for a retelling, like some of the Anne of Green Gables film adaptations out there. While the BBC North and South is not a bad show taken on its own, the story could absolutely benefit from a fresh and more faithful rendering of the original novel. No disrespect to fans of the miniseries, but having watched it so close on the heels of reading the book, I couldn’t help but see the shortcomings.

I have my reasons, and before you banish me to a life in the cotton mills, please hear me out and see if you don’t agree with at least some of these!

6 Reasons Why Gaskell’s North and South is Due for a Movie Remake

Note: This contains spoilers. If you’ve seen the movie you should be okay, but if you are unfamiliar with the story, exit out of this post and go read the book right now.

DVD cover of BBC North & South mini series

1. The missing “South”

The 2004 movie glosses over the first several chapters of the book far too quickly. Yes, there’s only so much you can include in a 4-hour miniseries. But fans of the novel know how important these opening scenes are. For one thing, they take place in Margaret’s beloved south of England. These chapters help us to understand her, which in turn helps us grasp the initial gap between Margaret and Mr. Thornton.

The film gives us a beautiful but fleeting glimpse of Helstone, before we’re whisked to Milton with a few paltry lines of dialogue to make amends. Mr. Hale’s decision to leave the Church of England is a prominent–if mysterious–theme in the first half of the novel, but the screenwriters ignore it in favour of the industrial narrative.

2.The portrayal of Margaret

Margaret Hale, the leading lady of Gaskell’s novel, is passionate, brave, opinionated, compassionate and highly sensitive–with a hefty dose of pride and strikingly good looks. She has a touch of Fanny Price’s stubbornness and ability to feel deeply, without Fanny Price’s shrinking violet syndrome. She has all the fire and haughtiness of Elizabeth Bennet and then some. In short, she’s a remarkable heroine, and stands far above many of her Victorian sisters.

Movie still of Margaret Hale in Milton, from the BBC North and South

In the 2004 adaptation Margaret is completely different. While the Margaret Hale of the book changes and matures, the Margaret of the movie seems beyond needing much character growth or development. Unless she’s lashing out at Mr. Thornton, she’s apathetic and sleepy. When she comments to her father in one scene that she’s tired, I couldn’t agree more.

3. The scene where Mr. Thornton beats the daylights out of his employee

In the book, our first impressions of Mr. Thornton are that he’s just some guy–and an unremarkable one at that. Margaret’s voice is the first thing we hear in the novel, and we get her innermost thoughts immediately after. But it takes us much longer to get to know John Thornton. We hear his name dropped in a few commonplace ways, and when we finally meet him he seems awkward and boring. We learn his true faults and virtues gradually.

Movie still of John Thornton punching a mill worker, from the 2004 North and South

How do we meet Mr. Thornton in the movie? We get a couple of shots of his stony face, and then he goes down to the machine floor and starts beating one of his workers to a pulp. It may be good drama, but it’s completely false. Mr. Thornton is a hard man and would certainly fire an employee for endangering the mill, but there’s no way he would beat him up. There are much better ways to show the ideological differences between Margaret and Mr. Thornton.

4. The proposal scenes

Margaret gets four proposal scenes in the TV miniseries, and all of them deviate from the book. In the show, Mr. Lennox’s proposal is hasty and unconvincing. I can reconcile myself to the time constraints and forgive this. The second proposal is between Margaret and Mr. Thornton, and it feels like a rehash of the first Lizzie/Darcy proposal in Pride and Prejudice. Thornton even alludes to her unfortunate family circumstances, a point which he never mentions in the book.

Movie still of Mr. Bell proposing to Margaret in BBC North and South

The third offer of marriage comes from Mr. Bell on the heels of Mr. Hale’s death. It’s apocryphal and awkward. The fourth and final proposal somewhat captures the feel of the book scene, but it’s very different in setting and dialogue. In the book, Margaret and Mr. Thornton come to their romantic understanding in private–and after all they had been through, I’m sure they liked it better that way(;

5. The action scenes

The two main action scenes in the book are the mob scene outside Marlborough Mills and the scene at the train station with Frederick. The events of both of these scenes are key to the misunderstandings between Margaret and Mr. Thornton. They’re present in the film series, but oddly truncated. I would gladly give up a few “walking through the streets of Milton” shots to see these important scenes more fleshed out. Actually, why not give up that apocryphal and overly-Austenized scene at the Great Exhibition?

6. The personalities of most of the supporting cast

I can allow some leeway for an actor to reinterpret their role. However, across the board the cast’s personalities are so very different from how they’re written in the book that I felt there was hardly a familiar face. It’s either the director’s misreading of Gaskell’s characters or some intentional miscasting. I love the actors who play Nicholas and Bessy Higgins, but for an accurate rendering of the book they don’t belong in these roles. Aunt Shaw and Mrs. Hale have more in common with Dickens caricatures. Mr. Lennox looks like he swallowed a fish. And I can’t put my finger on it, but Dixon just doesn’t seem like herself.

I don’t appreciate the addition of Ann Latimer to the story (supposedly a rival for Mr. Thornton’s love). She’s superfluous, and it feels like the screenwriter is Austenizing again. Granted, I like the comic changes they made to Fanny’s character. Mrs. Thornton is wonderful, and Mr. Bell is convincing. And Richard Armitage’s Mr. Thornton is perhaps the only reason why we don’t actually need a remake of North and South.

If they could recast Richard Armitage in a brand-new, true-book miniseries or film adaptation, maybe we’d finally have a definitive version.

Where can you watch the BBC North and South?

The 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s classic Victorian novel is available to stream on Britbox. The miniseries is split into four episodes, with a total runtime of 234 minutes. North & South is not currently streaming on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Promotional image of Nicholas Higgins, John Thornton, Margaret Hale, and Mr. Hale in the BBC North & South
Notice how Richard Armitage is usually the prominent person in all the movie art and posters? He steals the show right out from under Daniela Denby-Ashe.

What do you think? Do we desperately need a new North and South, or are you perfectly pleased with the current offerings? Are you a devotee of the book?

P.S. Has anyone seen the 1975 version of North and South, starring Patrick Stewart and Rosalind Shanks? According to the Amazon reviews, it’s dated but more faithful. I’m intrigued!

P.P.S. Another book-to-film adaptation that I feel needs a remake is the 1991 version of Elizabeth von Arnim’s beloved novel The Enchanted April. So I went ahead and came up with my own dream cast for an Enchanted April remake! Here are 7 other classic novels that are excellent candidates for a movie or miniseries.

6 Reasons Why We Need a Remake of the BBC North and South (and one reason we don\'t)
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70 Comments

  1. Elsie, you are SUCH a good writer and reviewer of literature! I loved the movie, but I watched it before I read the book. Of course, I loved the book more! Now you have me wanting to re-read it!!

    And I have to agree: Richard Armitage will always be my Mr. Thornton–even if they do a re-make. 🙂

    1. Thank you! I think the book is one of my favourites now!! Your praise of it was one of the many voices that finally got me to read it!

  2. I think most of us who love the BBC North and South watched it before reading the book, which certainly affects our perspective! And all the issues you mentioned ARE weak links in the movie. But the “feel” of the movie with the music and the cotton blowing….That’s why I re-watch it again and again! I certainly enjoyed my reading of the book last year! I understand Margaret and Thornton much better!

    1. Yes, you’re certainly right about the music–it was perfect! And I did like how they showed you the inside of the mill. It’s interesting because in the first episode Margaret writes to her cousin (referring to the blowing cotton) “I’ve seen hell and it’s white. It’s snow white.” That’s not in the book, but it’s a nice touch because it symbolizes how little she knows of Mr. Thornton’s true character at that point. The cotton is blowing around so much because Thornton uses fans in his mill, a courtesy for the workers’ health. Other merchants refuse to pay for the fans, and that’s how people like Bessy wind up permanently ill.

  3. I wouldn’t have read the book without having watched the movie first. That said, I wish I had found the book first. I also listened to it with an annoying audiobook. I will read it again.

    I COMPLETELY agree about the added scenes. There’s so much in the book, that you don’t need the extra scenes. I didn’t mind the ending of the movie until I read the book, though I knew it had to be different in the novel. After reading the book, I’m completely annoyed by the movie ending. It was lazy!

    1. Yep, that ending in the movie was pretty, but it had a lot of things “wrong” with it. The book ending is so well done, and while it goes by too fast, the movie ending still seemed more rushed. Do read the book again. I’m chomping at the bit to do so myself, but I’ve just spent weeks re-reading L.M. Montgomery novels, so I feel I need to add some new titles to my repertoire, first.

      1. From what I understand, Gaskell had to rush her ending because she had a deadline to keep with the publisher of the magazine. Gaskell felt her ending was rushed. It ends abruptly. I wish she had more time to write it. Regardless, the 2004 version is well done. 1975 version is not my favorite.

        1. That is so interesting! I do like Gaskell’s ending, I just wish there were more of it…that it was longer. Too bad we will never know what she would have done with it if she’d had more time!

          1. EG did not have time for a longer ending when it was serialized in Household Words. However, when she edited the book as a novel, she had the time. She decided she liked JT so much, she didn’t want to change him.

            1. I think Dickens sometimes annoyed Gaskell! In Cranford, she has one of her characters die while reading a Dickens novel, which some people think is a dig at him.

        2. I have never seen the 1975 version and I am aiming to buy the dvd. I saw the 2004 version on TV before I read the book and I can understand why fans were annoyed about John Thornton hitting and kicking his employee. He just didn’t do it, and there wasn’t a need for it. He could have been furiously angry. That would have been enough.

    2. I too saw the 2004 BBC production on Netflix one snowy Sunday afternoon, which inspired me to read the book. While this production took many liberties and several scenes were awkward, a newer version would be without Richard Armitage, Brendan Coyle Anna Maxwell Martin, etc as well as Martin Phipps music. I can’t fathom current actors with the depth of character as these.

  4. I have seen, and own the 1975 version. It IS more accurate to the novel. But it is very dry and drags at times.
    I read the novel long before I saw the 2004 version and I agree there were unnecessary scenes that were added. But I think they also help you relate to certain characters more.
    It always will be one of my favorite movies and I just view the mini series as a lovely loose adaptation of the novel.

    1. Good to know about the 1975 version! That’s about what I would expect. I will have to watch the 2004 version again and just change my perspective…the first time I saw it I was just coming off the excitement of reading the book, and my expectations for the movie were too high. I own the 2004 version, though, so we have time to work things out(:

  5. Thanks for sharing your views with me! I adore Gaskell’s book, and have a few issues with the film adaptation, but I’m satisfied that the 2004 BBC mini-series captured the emotional integrity and basic desperate conflict of the book. I forgive (to some degree) the omissions and changes made because I believe that creating an engaging, effective film is a different art form than the written word.
    I’ve seen the 1975 version and found it perfectly boring and unconvincing emotionally — although it more closely adheres to the book. (However, they omitted a vital situation: John never gets to save Margaret from the inquest!) And, to me, the passion involved in the story is absolutely integral. I much prefer adjustments be made to make the story come alive on film than require a resolute adherence to the original text.
    Did you happen to my blog post last year on the difference between the book and the film? We hit on some of the same points. 🙂
    https://frompemberleytomilton.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/464/

    1. Well said! The 2004 series does seem to capture some of that important passion from the novel, and I can see how an adaptation would feel stale without it (even if it did follow the narrative more closely). Thank you for sharing that blog post…I will pass that on to the ladies in my Facebook group. We have quite a few N&S fans!

  6. Oh dear! Afraid I do not even care for Mr. Thorton. He looks like he is smelling something bad all the time (that industrial air?) This look only begins to let up in ep 4. I haven’t read the book, but can so tell this is a story I should love in an adaptation I have to force myself through just to know the story so often referenced, I hopefully googled “new adaptation”.

    1. Give the book a try! Mr. Thornton is a fantastic literary hero. But yes, as played by Richard Armitage he does wear a bit of a sneer!

  7. The book is wonderful.. Especially when JT fails and loses everything. It’s really touching.

    But I disagree with number three. JT punching the smoker.
    A group of fans asked Sandy Welch (screenwriter) why she did that. She explained that the main barrier to their romance in the book is their class. JT is in trade. Sandy felt that barrier is not understood by a modern audience, therefore she upped the conflict. Perhaps they could have made more emphasis that fire in mills killed hundreds of people?

    The Armitage version will end up being the definitive one. I do however miss the part where Margaret faints during the riot and he whispers something like “Margaret, you are the only woman I will ever love.” (sigh).

    The 75 version is two star at best.

    1. That is too bad the ’75 version isn’t great. I’ve heard and get the argument that fires in the mill are a huge danger, but I still think they overdid it with Mr. Thornton assaulting his employee in that way. It was too brutal. He could’ve been angry (Armitage knows how to do a good angry face), and maybe still delivered one shocking punch as he dismissed him on the spot.

  8. Interesting article, thank you. On the point that Mr Armitage is more prominent than the leading lady I think there are a number of reasons for this. First a book is written from the reader’s perspective and in Austen and Haskell we are ‘inside’ the heroine. This leads me to my second point, tv is viewed differently and we see more. This adaptation came after the Andrew Davis P&P where Colin Forth wet shirt stole the show, his name will trip off most people’s lips, how many can name the actress playing Elizabeth?

    1. Ha, yes, I’d thought of that Colin Firth scene! I think the makers of this N&S were probably hoping for another romantic hero along those lines. I bet you’re right–it was a more lucrative priority for them to make the leading man stand out.

  9. Yes!! Somebody agrees with me!! The book had be spellbound and the mini series couldn’t quite invoke the same feeling… I saw it first and then read the book.

    1. That’s interesting that you saw the series first and still felt that way! It seems like most people who adored the miniseries had watched it before reading the book. “Spellbound” is a good word to describe how the book made me feel, too(:

      1. Me too!! I was spellbound(more by the book than the serial)!! It is so very nice to come across people who appreciate the character and emotions in this mini series rather that just gushing about the hotness of the actor. Even I gushed about Richard arbitrage, but this portrayal of Thornton was brilliant – every expression was so beautifully portrayed, that I felt it….sigh

  10. Like so many other commenters, I discovered the dramatization before the book. (I was a bit confused by the title, as there is a book series and dramatized series with the same name taking place at the time of the American War Between the States.) So many people here raved about the mini-series so I watched it, but when the brutal beating scene happened I stopped turned it off. It took a while to get back into the mini-series, and even now when I re-watch it I have to fast-forward through that scene. And I felt there was something missing regarding the relationships between various characters. But when I picked up the book I found that it did not hold my interest. Just couldn’t get through it; the writing style just did not appeal to me. Perhaps I’ll try again someday. I had never heard of Richard Armitage before, and yes he is a cutie, but I wouldn’t mind if someone else played the role. BTW the 1975 version is free to watch on YouTube. I don’t have time at the moment, but I watched the first ten or fifteen minutes and already feel like I know the female characters better. I’m looking forward to watching it in full, and thank you for this insightful review.

    1. Thanks for your comment! That’s good to know the ’75 version is on Youtube; I’d like to watch it. I’ve been pretty steeped in Victorian lit for a while, so I was used to writing styles similar to Gaskell’s. I can see how it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, though(:

  11. I have read the book several times in the last 40 years and while I liked the basic story, found the interminable religious rambling excessive even in context (Dickens doesn’t do it and the Brontes only do it in moderation). The 1975 version, although true to the book is too dark and lacks dramatic impact and I’m not particularly fond of Patrick Stewart as an actor – his Thornton is lumpy and unromantic.

    Against this background the 2004 version was the remake I was hoping for. It may not be entirely true to the book, but I think its a big improvement and the entire cast, including Daniella Denby-Ashe are hard to fault. My only big gripe was that the final scene was too sudden, too rushed and totally improper, since the Victorians would have taken a dim view of young unmarried ladies smooching in public with a passing millowner. But there are some lovely scenes – including the “look back” one. Sinead Cusack was absolutely superb as Mrs Thornton.

    And Colin Firth’s Elizabeth was Jennifer Ehle – I disliked her on sight as not being “my” Lizzie – she’s a little too sturdily built, but she did well. I find it hard to forgive Anna Maxwell Martin being cast as Elizabeth in “Death Comes to Pemberley” – terrible book, terrible adaptation.

    1. Ooo, a lumpy Thornton. No, that wouldn’t be good!

      Dickens does have some pretty religious passages/sentiment, I thought. I figured that is just common to the period of writing. But it does make sense in N&S, too, since Mr. Hale’s decision to leave the church of England is what first moves the plot towards the conflict, and it’s quite a paradigm shift for Margaret to come to grips with. Mansfield Park has a lot of religious themes, too, and I’ve thought it and North and South would be fascinating to compare, for that reason as well as other similarities. Maybe another post sometime!

      I wholeheartedly agree–Sinead Cusack nailed it! Also did not like Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth. She’s good for Esther in Bleak House, but didn’t belong as Lizzie.

  12. I loved loved this article. I actually watched the mini series first as it was on BBC iplayer and loved it so much I dug the unread book out of a pile meant for charity! I loved the miniseries but it pales in comparison to the book in my opinion. Although I have to say my favourite part of the book is Mr Thornton awkwardly getting on the bus that stopped for him by mistake after Margaret declines his proposal…

  13. Elsie, I thank you with unabashed joy for relieving my anguish with your opinions. North and South is to me the most brilliant story of morality, strength and pride. We feel the grit and struggle of these characters as acutely as we do our friends and family, such is Elizabeth’s gift of portraying the human condition. Gaskell was no holiday, pass the time away story teller, she wanders through the soul, plucks it out your mouth and stamps your heart’s story on paper better than you could yourself. North and South is to me the most brilliant story of principle, a fantastic account of strength and pride. Anyway, this adaption is down right insultingly base and turns a glorious story of depth and heart into an obvious romance. Every single character has a lesson to teach, every sentence they utter hold true to story but the screen writing for this adaption is despicably crass. I watched the first 15 minutes and chain smoked in horror that such poetry could be brought so low and shuddered at the thought of viewers thinking this as ‘great, timeless literature. Sorry, I know I sound pompous and addled when indignant. This was only furthered by finding that reviews of the drama reached 8/10 consistantly, my faith in people was assundered and my belief that directors think the average person witless ascertained. Thank you for naming precisely the failures of this adaption, you have calmed me down! X

    1. Anna, thank you for your comment! I know I am in the minority with my low opinion of this N&S adaptation. I think it must be that many viewers feel in love with it because they hadn’t read the book previously. I love this: “…she wanders through the soul, plucks it out your mouth and stamps your heart’s story on paper better than you could yourself. North and South is to me the most brilliant story of principle, a fantastic account of strength and pride.” That is so well said. The BBC series didn’t capture that, plain and simple.

      Now, since you have good insights into Gaskell, I’m curious what you think of the new “Anne with an E” series? (If you are a Montgomery fan.) I just don’t understand the people who champion that version. I just don’t.

  14. I read the book a few weeks later and watched the miniseries. I loved the book. I liked the miniseries. To tell you the truth I liked the scenes in the factory (with cotton creating a playful scene), I fell in love with Richard Armitage and the final scene. I loved your comments because they coincide with many thoughts I had. I did not like to include aggressiveness to Mr Thornton’s character: he was tough but not violent. I also found Margaret to be apathetic about the movie. I loved reading about the differences of the north and south and the class conflicts that were not so clear in the series. The friendship of Margaret and Bessie and Nicholas in the series is superficial and in the book this friendship helps in the growth of the personage of Margaret. Forgive me the mistakes because I write with the help of a translator

    1. The translator didn’t detract from your comment; I can understand you well! So happy we share the same thoughts on this. The book really is a treasure, and I’m glad you’ve read it!

  15. You are spot on with your analysis of the mini-series. I find the proposal from Mr Bell especially disturbing. And don’t even get me started on the ending. The mini-series turns the industrious JT into a man that goes on vacation when his business is in ruins! Those few meetings between JT and Margaret in London at the end of the book indicate a true partnership. We get none of that in the mini-series.

    Elizabeth Gaskell is a true genius. I agree a remake is due, but please, not before Ruth. If you haven’t read that one, you owe it to yourself.

    1. I haven’t read Ruth, but I’m excited to think there’s more uncharted Gaskell territory for me! It’s always such an Experience to read a GOOD novel for the first time! I believe they incorporated parts of Ruth into the Cranford miniseries, is that right? I’m sure it needs its own series, though.

  16. I just watched the 1975 North and South version, now on Amazon Prime, and fell in love with it. I can’t critically evaluate it though because I have such a love for North and South that I am blinded by it. It was shorter and left out some key points. Mr. Thornton was more buoyant.

  17. I so hope they remake this series! For the most part I was so disappointed by what I saw on screen, especially regarding Margaret’s character. Worst of all it felt like they got their relationship all wrong.

    1. Considering how popular the series was, I am surprised the BBC hasn’t remade it yet. Especially since they’ve done repeated remakes of Dickens and Austen for the past couple decades, AND, when they made Cranford it was so well received. So let’s see North and South again already!!!

  18. Well no one has mentioned the 1966 series of North and South so I must. It was superb, following the wonderful book to the letter and more importantly, the spirit. Mt Thornton was played by Richard Leeche and after his portrayal no other John Thornton will do. Margaret Hale played by an actress whose name was Wendy ? She was beautiful and gutsy and you could feel the chemistry between the two. Try as I might I havent been able to find a trailer or any scene from this series but oh boy it was the best.

    1. That is wonderful to know! I will certainly keep an eye out for that! Maybe it is in a BBC vault somewhere and they’ll release it eventually.

  19. I have read the book and watched the 2004 miniseries several times. Love them both but you do make some valid points, the book definitely has more depth and you get to understand the characters more but I absolutely loved Richard Armitage as Mr Thornton. He’s the reason why I’ve watched it so much. Not shallow at all 😁

  20. You have captured my thoughts exactly. Margaret is supposed to be queen like. And, I was completely bummed with making Mr. Thornton violent. That just seemed out of character. I loved the settings however and Mr. Thornton’s has become my favorite character. But, Margaret, she was a woman, we women should be proud to know even though she is flawed. That was really my biggest disappointment.

  21. Though the series didn’t live up to the book, I simply lovvvved it !! It captures the mood of the era so poignantly. Daniela didn’t fit the description to the letter perhaps but still loved her, especially her expressive eyes… Richard Armitage was fabulous as Thornton, nobody but nobody could have done better… I wish they had had another episode to flesh out the story a little more. Loved the background score.

    1. The score is lovely, yes, and the era/setting. Although speaking of setting, I really wish they had shown more of Margaret’s flower-veiled cottage in the south. They didn’t play up the contrast of the north and the south all that much, and it’s kind of a big part of the book (which one can see from the title, ha!)

  22. I really enjoy and love both book and series. I can’t image anyone playing John Thornton except Richard Armitage. I agree with the opening violent scene with Mr Thornton, that was wrong to put him into that kinda light. He was a rough, uncouth as he called himself, but not violent! I have even tried to visualize some other actor playing Mr Thornton…I haven’t saw anyone that can come across with the same expressions with his eyes and facial looks like Richard. Trying to make a re-make might be hard. There’s just isn’t anyone even close to the broody man that Richard portrayed! Richard never made another period drama after North and South and neither did Daniela A Derby! He did Thorin for the Hobbit movie, but not a true period drama. Interesting thought! But there are many things that they could of added or taken away from the series. He shouldn’t of left her laying there after getting hit in the head with the rock. He could of scooped her up into his arm and then said are you satisfied! Then added the part from the book where he was addressing Margaret while she was unconscious! I’m too much a romantic! Lol…blush! But I do love both the book and series, but trying to make re-make…I just can’t see anyother John Thornton after Richard performance! Too bad they had had a sequel, but I’ve enjoyed many other authors sequels or interpretations, like Trudy’s B Or Nicole Clarkston. Very good reads!
    Thanks 👍👍

    1. I know, there were some fantastic scenes from the book they could’ve done more with! I will have to think about who else could play John Thornton. Tough act to follow, for sure, since Armitage nailed it.

  23. My confirmation bias really kicked in lol. But, I think your opinions are beautifully put, and I really want to read the book now. I stumbled into this article on accident, and it makes me feel joy knowing other people are super invested in Margaret’s story.

  24. I now have the 1975 and 2004 versions. I like them both. I like the made-up ending to the Richard Armitage version but I also like the truer-to-the-book ending of the Patrick Stewart version. I like it when he says “Margaret” three times. I am old enough to remember Richard Leeche so I am interested to learn that he was in an earlier version. I never really know why directors/adaptors have to invent scenes which go against the actual story, as with John Thornton kicking the employee or Mr. Darcy swimming. Surely those famous books don’t need deviations. Fill-ins, like Mr. Darcy fencing, are all right, I think.

  25. I just finished the 75 version and was amazed to see that Tim Pigott-Smith played Fredrick in the 75 adaptation and Mr Hale in 2004! I was so tickled by that and wanted to share!!!

  26. The 2004 mini series of north and south in my opinion cannot be bettered I loved every moment. It’s a masterpiece it’s earthy gritty and utterly romantic. Bringing to life Mrs Gaskells characters superbly . Richard Armitage is John Thornton . The chemistry between him and Daniela Denby Ashe just works . There are so many wonderful characters . I also loved the story of Nicholas and his family . It was beautifully made a classic . The station scene for me is the most romantic scene ever . I just adore this series and watch it over and over , I also loved Cranford . I looked to see if another book by Elizabeth Gaskell called Ruth had been adapted for television but have had no luck I hope sometime this will be rectified .

    1. Cranford is great! I honestly wish I’d waited longer after reading North and South to watch the miniseries. I might’ve liked it better then! I was just too excited after finishing the book to pop in the DVD, so everything was fresh in my mind. But I can definitely see why so many fans love it…taken on its own, it’s a very good show!

  27. When the next adaptation is made I hope they will stick to the ending as it is in the book. He makes a remark about her aunt and she makes a remark about his mother. There is plenty of scope in what Mrs. Gaskell wrote, for kisses – “delicious silence” are her words, I think.

  28. Totally agree with you about the deviations from the book. First of all the heroine, she is supposed to be tall, stately, dignified, a queen! The actress was ok but far from the image I had of her from the book. But the dumbest thing was adding “Miss Latimer” as a rival — where did she come from? How stupid to invent a character that wasn’t even in the book. I think with 4 episodes there was plenty of time to be faithful to the book, no excuse. Thanks for your perceptive comments; great to hear someone who appreciates this book and Mrs. Gaskell.

    1. Thank you! I don’t hear from many people who agree with me, because they already love the miniseries so much! With Jane Austen and the Brontës and Dickens and Little Women getting various remakes one after the other, surely someone will revisit North and South eventually!!

  29. I’m another in the minority!

    I agree with your six reasons though I think a remake would be fine with another actor too. RA certainly looked the part though played him far too stern for me – I concede that it was somebody else’s (bad) decisions to introduce the nonsense of making him violent, bad tempered and rude.

    Contrast Patrick Stewart’s warmth he brings to the role e.g. when he meets Mr Bell on the train and when he’s interacting with various workers when the mill closes (his romantic scenes were awkward though); people with a naturally serious demeanour still smile, laugh and can be friendly and that was lacking in 2004, in more characters than just Mr Thornton. Gaskell even comments about how John’s smile is like ‘sudden sunlight’ – there must have been an eclipse during filming!

    I’d really like an ending that plays out the last few chapters of the book in full. I think the dinner at the Shaw household is essential, John talks to the MP about his growth with workers, class and strikes and it is this that Margaret is gripped by and what rouses her to offer her inheritance – remember that in spite of having feelings for him, she still didn’t want to attend the dinner knowing he’d be there; it was what was said there that moved her so much that at the end she asks Henry to meet with her the next day so sort out the legals. Neither mini series delivers this key scene, which captures all the themes that the book is about.

    So refreshing to read your article, you have another person on your side 🙂

  30. Came to this post through a Google search for the radio drama. I agree with you very much in most points.

    Re: the South, I think the main problem of the little screentime it gets is that we don’t get to see that it is flawed too in its own way (the north also suffers from being portrayed too negatively). Gaskell is making a point in the story that there are no perfect systems and that it matters a lot what people do within those systems to help the less fortunate.

    You may already know this, but the N&S name was a request/imposition from Dickens; Gaskell wanted to title the novel Margaret Hale, because it is first of all the story of Margaret’s journey from girlhood to independent womanhood (in second place it is a social novel and only in third place a romance). So the fact that Margaret in the miniseries is a barely sketched character is one of its biggest flaws. As a side note, I’m amused because I was just telling someone the other day about how Margaret resembled Fanny Price quite a bit.

    As for Richard Armitage… he’s a great actor but he’s way too posh and pretty to fit Mr. Thornton in my opinion. My mental picture of John and Margaret in the novel is mid 90s Mark Strong and Kate Beckinsale (as they are in the ITV adaptation of Emma).

    Ultimately, yes, N&S 2004 is not a definitive adaptation by any means (in my opinion it ranks quite below Cranford 2007 and Wives and Daughters 1999) and I’d love to see another adaptation of it!

    1. That’s so interesting that Dickens directed the name! The man loved his dichotomies, so if he’s the one that suggested it I’m not surprised. I do like the choice, though. On the other hand, the title Margaret Hale does seem to fit more with the tradition Gaskell was writing in, especially in light of her connection with Charlotte Bronte. It’s her Jane Eyre (woman’s journey) and Shirley (social novel). I can totally picture those actors as Margaret and John! Good choice!

      Thank you so much for your insights, as well as telling me how you came upon the post…I always find that interesting to know!

  31. Hi! Thank you for this analysis and I agree that this 2004 version is not faithful to the novel.
    However, I see this deviation from the novel as a choice from the show makers’ part. Their priority was to appeal to all audiences, not just book readers. So they had to take creative license.
    The novel is so subtle. It would be impossible to adapt it faithfully in 4 episodes and still uphold the appeal of the story. They had to do it in a way that would make the most impact on viewers.
    For example, maybe Thornton punching out his employee is wrong, but their goal here is to both have a first meeting between Margaret and Thornton while also highlighting the differences between them AND showing the brutality of life in this area, so that the next scene, Margaret can describe “hell” in her letter to Edith.
    I don’t think Thornton’s first meeting with Margaret would’ve made cinematic impact if it’d been done exactly like in the book (with polite greetings and silent reflection on Thornton’s part).
    For me, personally, both first encounters in the book and the show are memorable, but in different ways.
    All in all, I think this show is successful in the sense that it makes a lot of people seek out the book.
    It would be great if we could get a show that’s longer than 10 eps so writers could be creative and still stick to the novel. I would love to see how those long, difficult conversations about difference systems in the book play out on the screen.

    1. Mimi, thank you for this thoughtful comment, and please accept my apologies for taking so long to reply! I think you have a very wise assessment of the miniseries, and your points make a lot of sense! Lately when watching movie/show adaptations of stories I love, I’ve been trying to pay attention more to WHY the filmmakers made certain artistic choices…what they were trying to accomplish for viewer impact, their angle on the story, and condensing longer book plots. For instance, when my husband and I were watching Amazon’s Rings of Power, he was quite annoyed with the mithril plot, but I pointed out that they *needed* that as a way to tie the Dwarves into the story. Otherwise the Dwarves would just be incidental to the larger themes and threads the show is building.

      I don’t always agree with show makers’ choices, but thinking about the “why” can help me to better understand their deviations from beloved plots.

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