When I first got the notion to do a fun (well, fun to me, at least) little series about Classic Favorites, it seemed like two posts would probably cover it. (Hmm. Can only two posts a series make?) But once I'd written the first post, I realized that my favorite movies based on those book picks really deserved a post of their own, too. And so it grew, until, finally, we're now at the fourth (and last) post on the subject. (Hey! That makes it official, right? It's a bonafide "series", after all. A mini-series, if you will. ;))
In the same way that North and South, the book, has topped my short list of Really Good Stuff, so has North and South, the BBC production. It's nothing short of amazing.
Since I've already described the overall storyline in (ehem) some detail, I won't rehash any of that. (If you haven't read my thoughts about it yet--and you're breaking my heart if you haven't, you know--then check out yesterday's post first, 'kay? Oh, and grab a danish and a cuppa joe while you're at it. I do tend to run on a bit...)
But back to the movie. The highest compliment I can think to give a filmed version of a book (any book) that I really love, is to say that not only is it true to the original, but that it's also true to the spirit of the original.
Think about that for a moment. Some adaptations treat the original work almost as though it were a play, copying every scene to the smallest detail, and speaking all the dialog verbatim. Nothing really wrong with that approach, I suppose, except that some things just don't translate smoothly from one medium to another, which winds up leading to a good deal of awkwardness. Other filmmakers take the opposite approach; they "loosely base" their adaptation on the original--a treatment that, more often than not, manages to lose far too much of what made the original so good in the first place.
North and South is a great example of blending those two approaches. It doesn't follow every single page of the book to a T. Instead, it takes an idea or a scene and moves it or alters it a bit to create a smoother narrative flow. At other times, it makes up an entire scene out of whole cloth, something that didn't exactly happen in the book--but in doing so, devises a more effective way to show something or to better get a point across. And obviously, there are the sort of changes made so that the cast can number in the dozens (rather than the hundreds), and so that only a handful of sets and locations are needed (instead of a prohibitively-expensive amount of them). Familiar with the book, I'm certainly aware of all the changes that have been made, going from book to movie; but the key here is that I'm really happy with the lot of them, because nothing altered the spirit or the tone of Gaskell's work.
Finally, a bit about the actors. Daniela Denby-Ashe is perfectly cast in the lead role as Margaret Hale. She embodies the mature, opinionated, determined, and passionate character precisely as the author wrote her, I think. Richard Armitage is (thank goodness) equal to the task of appearing opposite her, with that cold, rather-stiff formality which he almost seems to wear as a cloak to guard the lonely, sad man inside. And the brilliance just continues with the supporting actors. Of special note are the amazing Sinéad Cusack (Thornton's protective battleaxe of a mother--a good, albeit very hard woman, who truly loves her son), Brian Protheroe (Mr. Hale's old friend, a very smart chap who manages to make a lot of pointed comments and observations about Margaret and Thornton, and interferes more often than anyone seems to realize), and Brendan Coyle (as Nicholas Higgins, the union man at the very heart of so much of the action). And, in the same way that these actors--as well as all the rest not mentioned here, for they're really uniformly good--provide the heart and soul of the movie, the location shots perfectly contribute to the feel of the place, which is so important in understanding the characters and their situations.
This is a longer production, running some four hours. If you trust me when I say that this is REALLY a must-watch, then be sure to set aside one four-hour block. (And plenty of snacks and beverages.) Trust me. (Yes, continue to do so.) Once you start, you won't want to stop watching until you've seen the final credits roll.