Ten Things I Love About North and South — Number 1

John Thornton in the Mill1.  John Thornton.

John Thornton is a fascinating, romantic character.  He is a wise business man, who has overcome poverty through his hard work and now wants to improve himself through education.  I admire his practicality in hiring the Irish workers, and I admire his stand against the strikers.  He accepts responsibility for his actions and lives within his own moral code.

He has a loving, respectful relationship with his mother.  They are open and honest about how they feel, the troubles with the business, and Thornton’s growing attraction for Margaret.  I like the sense of humor they share.

John Thornton at Party

Thornton loves Margaret, even when he thinks that she will never love him.  He proposes, believing that she will refuse him.  And after she has refused him, he still brings fruit to her mother, and shows up at the funeral, asking if he can help.  And best of all, he helps in the criminal investigation, when he thinks that she has been foolish.  He just won’t give up his love, even when she gives him no hope.

I also liked his relationship with Higgins.  He goes from distrusting Higgins, to listening to him, to apologizing, to working with him.  This character arc shows that Thornton is a decent man who is willing to change his mind about someone.  By the end of the series, Thornton and Higgins truly respect each other.

John Thorntonat window

Overall, I think Thornton’s greatest attraction is that we know him.  Thornton’s emotions and thoughts are transparent — the viewer never has to guess at what he is thinking or feeling.  That is very appealing.


After watching the miniseries, I read the novel.   I do wish the screenplay had included the scene where Thornton carries Margaret into his house after she’s been wounded, but I won’t complain.  Sandy Welch wrote an ending that was even more romantic than the one in the novel, which was very romantic for its day.

As I read the novel, I was amazed by the depth of the characterization.  The beauty of BBC North and South was not just a talented screenwriter and an amazing actor augmenting a great story.  Elizabeth Gaskell gave them the information they needed.  She describes more thoughts and emotions of her male lead than any other Victorian author that I recall. Rochester, is fascinating, but he is an enigma through most of Jane Eyre.  I haven’t read enough Dickens recently to discuss what he did, but I don’t remember him describing male and female thoughts with the same depth as Gaskell.  Interestingly, in the extra interview with Richard Armitage on the dvd, he mentions that he read the novel to prepare for the audition and to help him as he was performing the part.

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