Sunday, April 14, 2013

Time too long to wait for Downton Abbey? Check out North and South (the British version)

Buying a "smart" TV was one of the best decisions I made. A couple of years ago I managed to snag a Black Friday online special through Best Buy and got a smart TV that allows direct streaming with Netflix and Amazon. Money conscious as I am, I have so far only used the free Amazon Prime Instant  Videos and since I have only basic cable (waiting for Aereo) most of the shows on Amazon are new to me.

Searching through the BBC America offerings, I came across a short four-part series called North and South. Unlike the North and South produced in the USA and dealing with the Civil War, this series is much tamer. But it has plenty of drama nonetheless. It describes the adventures of a young woman and her move, with her parents, from Southern to Northern England. If you have ever visited England, you will know that the Southern part is dramatically different from Northern England. This series makes this very clear. Not only is the landscape very different, back in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution when unions were only starting in the northern mills, the culture of people was very different too. Manners required and expected in London were ignored in the northern cities, that in turn were considered wild by people in London.

available on here
So this young woman, Margaret Hale, finds herself in a totally different environment during one of the crucial periods on British history. Of course there is some romance, actually quite a bit of impeded romance (it is a four part series after all) centering on Margaret and the owner of the local mill, John Thornton. Add in the developing union movement, involving Nicholas Higgins (played by Brendan Coyle, aka Mister John Bates from Downtown Abbey) and a set of other interesting period characters and this series does a good job of keeping you entertained and bridging the gap until Downton Abbey returns.

I had never even heard of this show before and doing some research it seems that BBC itself did not have much faith in the show, rolling it out with very little promotion. But it seems that just like myself, the audience seemed a lot more receptive, actually crashing the messaging board for the show when it first aired back in 2004. Not sure whether this interest is due to Richard Armitage's portrayal of John Thorton, who audiences may have related to Colin Firth's portrayal of Darcy in Pride and Prejudice or just the quite realistic depiction of the effect that the Industrial Revolution had on northern mills. Either way, I can highly recommend the series. I would consider it a hidden gem that has gone unnoticed by myself for too many years. The Wikipedia reference here for some background information and a very brief plot summary.

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