First off, period dramas are definitely my favorite genre of movie.
Up until I viewed this series, "Pride & Prejudice" '95 easily took top honors as my all-time favorite! Now I'd say, it's pretty much a tie between N&S and P&P!
After all these years, I've finally decided to write a little review...
I found this at my local library back in 2006, and promptly took it home to watch. (At the time, the authors name didn't jog my memory. I hadn't realized that she wrote "Wives & Daughters"-- which had previously been turned into a miniseries, that I enjoyed when (PBS) Masterpiece Classic aired a few years before.)
Being as I hadn't read the book prior to viewing, I had nothing to compare it to.
I can't remember exactly if I watched the whole series in one sitting or not, but I distinctly recall my reaction to the ending-- I was in utter tears! Never had an ending (a happy one at least) moved me so much as this one had!! Of course, the classical score ("Northbound Train") softly playing in the background packs quite the emotional punch as well!
As far as initial impressions go-- I don't think anyone in the cast disappointed me with their performance. The whole thing was expertly acted; in particular by the leads Daniela Denby-Ashe (Miss Hale), and Richard Armitage (Mr. Thornton)- both of whom were entirely unknown to me at the time.
The locations, scenery, script, and musical score are all top notch!
Last year I was able to finally read the book, which brought fresh understanding to its characters (especially Mr. Thornton).
..For anyone inclined, I strongly urge you to read the book; you'll get so much more out of the story if you do! (Or perhaps the audio-book if you don't want to read all 400 some pages.)
Beyond just a tale of romance, and social etiquette-- the book and movie really gives you a glimpse of the great change that the industrialized age was bringing to not just England, but the rest of the world. Which in turn had an impact on society in general.
It really goes without saying that life back then was extremely hard; death came at a much earlier age than nowadays!
The conditions the industrialized working class had to endure obviously led many to an early grave. Workers unions were created to ensure proper working conditions, and fair wages.
Also, instead of being born into privilege, one could insure their own financial independence, and social status.
Just like her contemporary (and friend) Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell wrote strong female characters. Like "Jane Eyre" I would imagine that "Margaret Hale" was not typical of the average woman of that period (or how they were expected to behave). These characters were ahead of their times, and obviously so where the real women that wrote them--or at least aspired to be (much like Jane Austen)!
If I had to have one little quibble about the film verses the book, it would be the way in which the leads met. Mr. Thornton although a "bulldog" never did that to a worker (in fact, as both later portrayed, he actually struck up a friendship with Nicholas Higgins)!
One hit would have gotten the point across- instead he ended up beating him! While it's entirely possible that an owner/overseer could have done that back then for the reason stated in the movie, it just wasn't in line with his character. But I guess the writers/producer/director felt that the novel's reasons Margaret took a dislike to him maybe wouldn't translate to film well--especially since the way society viewed things back then and now, are so different; and therefore had to get to the point right away by having the character do that.
Although the film ending is different than the book, I have no qualms with it. Perhaps it's not the way things would have been done back then (at least in public), but in my opinion, it does convey more emotional depth than the actual book ending (which has an abrupt, almost unfinished feel to it).
If you desire further understanding of the Victorian era/life, here are a few things I can recommend to view: "Who the Dickens is Mrs. Gaskell?" (found on disc 3 of "Wives & Daughters" in "The Elizabeth Gaskell Collection" dvd collection). Historical (reality) documentary shows: "Victorian Farm", "Victorian Pharmacy", "The Supersizers Go...Victorian", and "Turn Back Time: The High Street (1st Episode: Victorian Era)".
There's some others I have yet to fully see; but if you search "Victorian Factory Conditions", or "Victorian Era" on places like YT, you will find clips or whole segments of documentaries on life and conditions back then!
In conclusion, I feel this series definitely did the book justice, despite the 2 discrepancies. And highly recommend this miniseries to those that enjoy period dramas (particularly those by Charles Dickens, the Brontës, Thomas Hardy, William Makepeace Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, Catherine Cookson, etc.)!
**ATTENTION**: As of July 2013, Acorn Media (UK) is finally releasing the 1975 BBC miniseries adaptation of "North & South" (starring Patrick Stewart and Rosalie Shanks)! If you'd like to compare the two, you will soon have the chance!
I sent inquiries to both Acorn Media UK, and the North American site to find out more about its release. "AM" UK stated that their dvd was Region 2/PAL, and that I needed to contact the NA/US company to find if it would be released on a Region 1/NTSC disc. I did, and this is the import of their reply: "Unfortunately, the product you are inquiring about is currently not available from Acorn. Your request however, has been forwarded to our purchasing group who will use this information in future product decisions." So, I would suggest that you contact Acorn Media yourself if you have any interest in buying a Region 1/NTSC disc.