I am going through a breakup, and so what better time to obsessively fixate on an unattainable ideal? And who better than Richard Armitage, who is SO HOT right now! YAY!!! *takes another shot*
Armitage first showed up on my radar when he appeared as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit. I hadn’t heard of him, and looked for more of his work, preferably the smutty kind.
My friend, another Armitage fan, recommended the show to me. I gave it a try a while ago but couldn’t quite get into it. A snail with a twisted ankle could outstrip it when it comes to pacing.
The story is actually fascinating: Margaret Hale is a young woman from the South of England who moves with her family to the North. Her father is a rector who has lost his faith, and so chose to move to the North and be a teacher, which will cause his family to live “in reduced circumstances,” which is British Dramatic Speak for “no longer wealthy.” Margaret, while scouting for a new house to rent, overhears some men gossiping about her father’s recent social descent and speculating that it might have been due to something scandalous. She demands to be taken to their boss, Mr. Thornton the factory owner (Armitage) who has taken it upon himself to help the family find a house.
She meets our luscious hero just when he is in the midst of lurid exhortations, which sounds sexy but really means “beating the shit out of a factory worker.” It transpires Thornton has lost his temper because the worker was smoking in the middle of a COTTON MILL, which is only slightly less flammable than a Chinese firework marinated in lamp oil, and he has seen the result of gruesome factory fires before. He considers his position as the factory owner as a kind of steward of his employees, even if he begrudges them their salaries.
There are some interesting moments where worlds collide; Thornton, a member of the emergent bourgeoisie, carries a chip on his shoulder about having been born poor, as does his Mother, although his sister is delighted at having “gone up” in the world. Hale has a bad moment where she is engulfed in a crowd of rough working class folks, who jeer and frighten her before she is rescued by Nicholas Higgins, played by Brendan Coyle (who is best known as Mr. Bates from Downtown Abbey). The working class have power, they aren’t afraid to pick on an unattended upperclass lady and both of them know it. Ever after there little moments of socioeconomic overlap, sometimes overt and sometimes very subtle, but still there.
It began to dawn on me somewhere in the second episode that this was how the show was going to be. There would be no rogering or nudity, and since I didn’t know how long the show was I was very concerned that I would spend 25 hours of my life for the privilege of watching someone loosen their cravat. Luckily the show was only 4 episodes, and I was having fun with it, so I watched the rest.
Margaret is a likeable enough character, but I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t really moved by her plight, possibly because she didn’t launch herself crotch-first at Thornton upon his first appearance like any sensible person would. She puts him off and insists she doesn’t like him, even when he approaches her with an offer of marriage.
Like your standard costume drama, they go back and forth for approximately 800 years before they get together. By the end of the show he’s financially ruined despite all his hard work, and the experience has broken many of his tightly-held conceptions about life. And this is symbolized in him appearing in public with his shirt undone, which shouldn’t be that big a deal and yet it is, because Armitage releases some weapons-grade smolder.
Trends come and go. Currently we are stuck in a “actors and actresses barely wear clothes” cycle. I’m not advocating we all wrap ourselves up in layers and layers of shamecloth, but there’s something to be said for a less is more approach, sometimes. It’s nice to have to use your imagination now and then.
When it’s done right, with the right performers and good direction, an undone button can butter more crumpet than a pile of porn mags. But maybe it’s just me.
North and South is available on Instant Watch. If you already watch a lot of these types of shows you might enjoy it, and the history is very interesting. Watch the first episode and see what you think!
*finishes off the bottle, goes to sleep in the empty bathtub*