North and South is the BBC’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, published in 1850. Told in four, one-hour episodes, It is a love story between Margaret Hale (Daniella Denby-Ashe) and John Thornton (Richard Armitage in his first leading role). Margaret Hale is the daughter of a clergyman who gives up his comfortable living in Hampshire and moves his wife and daughter to the northern, cotton manufacturing town of Milton. There, Margaret meets John Thornton, a stern, well-respected and successful mill owner. Gradually, their mutual dislike becomes attraction and love against the life of an industrial town at the beginning of England’s industrial revolution. It is considered, and Richard considers it, his break-through role.
Richard Armitage describes his character, John Thornton, mill owner, as an ‘iron fist’. When we first meet Thornton, he is beating an employee. It is a brutal introduction to the world of a mid nineteenth century English industrial town. Even the director, Brian Percival, disliked Thornton when he first read the screenplay.
Richard Armitage – John Thornton
Daniela Denby-Ashe – Margaret Hale
Timothy Pigott-Smith – Richard Hale
Leslie Manville – Maria Hale
Sinead Cusack – Hanna Thornton
Jo Joyner – Fanny Thornton
Brendan Coyle – Nicholas Higgins
Anna Maxwell Martin – Bessie Higgins
Pauline Quirk – Dixon
That’s the scene for me that was the most romantic just because of its simplicity. There are very, very few dialogue lines. It’s all about just their physical presence and him seeing her and needing to take her home. It still makes me tingle. (The Story of the Costume Drama, ITV3, December 3, 2008)
I made a lot of acting breakthroughs for myself because of Daniela, Sinead, Tim, Brendan. And it’s redefined my needs as an actor. My goal posts have moved now so I guess I’m gonna judge everything according to what happened with North and South.
(North & South DVD interview with Richard Armitage)