Having just finished a book, I’m kind of in tidy up and relaxation mode for a week or two. I began to go through a gift my husband recently gave me–several BBC movie collections. I picked two fantastic ones right off the bat: North and South and Daniel Deronda.
North and South is based on the 1885 novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. This story runs contrary to what you might expect from a novel from this time period, as it contans a very strong social element and takes place in a gritty, industrial town.
The title reflects the contrasts between the wealthier south of England and the industrial north, as well as the characters of the gently bred, middle class heroine Margaret Hale and the seemingly cold, hard ‘master’ of the local cotton mill, John Thorton. Ms. Hale is at first appalled by Thornton, thinking him brutal and callous to his workers. Despite his cold exterior, however, Thorton has his reasons for his actions and what appears as cruelty actually stems from concerns for his workers’ safety.
Thornton is a complex hero, driven by the necessity of caring for his mother and sister and terrified of financial ruin. At the same time, he longs for the beauty of knowledge and art. It is this part of him, perhaps, that falls in love with Margaret.
I liked Margaret very much. She was a strong heroine, smart and compassionate. Thornton proposes to her half way through the story. As in Pride and Prejudice he is rejected, and it takes Margaret a while to see his good qualities and to understand and love him.
The secondary characters in North and South are well drawn–my favorite being the mill worker Nicolas Higgins and his two daughters, whom Margaret befriends. It’s nice to see a strong, working class family in a late Victorian-era story. Higgins has a noble spirit, and he while he and Thornton start out being enemies, they come to respect one another’s strengths.
Just a side note–the musical score to this movie is beautiful and enriches the romance greatly.
Beth’s rating of North and South 4.0 stars
My second movie is Daniel Deronda. I will admit that I’ve never even heard of this George Elliot novel. I’ve read Middlemarch, although it’s never been a great favorite, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the BBC movie.
I’ll state it succinctly–I was enraptured by Daniel Deronda.
The sets, costumes, the actors and actresses cast a spell on me. In tone, this movie couldn’t be more different than North and South. However, both stories have strong social elements to them. Daniel Deronda, played wonderfully by Hugh Dancy, is…well, good and beautiful. Not in a nauseating, sickening way, but in a noble, quiet and enduring fashion.
He contrasts greatly with the stunning, selfish Gwendolyn. He can’t help but be attracted to her sexual beauty anymore than she can help being attracted by his goodness. They are the inverse of each other, soul mates against all odds. Gwendolyn is a piece of work, to put it mildly, but once again, here is a complex, fascinating character reminiscent of a Scarlet O’Hara. And can this actress wear the period dress. OMG, she looks amazing.
Okay, enough gushing about dresses.
This is a movie about moral development and discovery of one’s true self. I suspect that the story itself was very, very good, but the BBC adaptation is really to be heralded. This movie is a treat for the senses. I was kept on my toes wondering if Daniel would fall for the splendid Gwen or the modest, soulful singer Mira. It felt a little bit like Ivanhoe with Rowena and Rebecca. I liked his choice, but tell me what you think if you catch the movie. I highly recommend it.
Beth’s rating of Daniel Deronda 4.5 stars