North and South: 10 Ways the Film Is Not Like the Book


Hello Dear Readers,

I know you all love North and South, but do you love the book, the BBC adaptation or both?

Have you ever wondered about their differences?

Today I’m receiving a very special guest at From Pemberley to Milton to explain some of the differences between Elizabeth Gaskell’s book and the BBC adaptation.

Trudy Brasure has become a specialist in North and South and written 2 fan fiction books about it, one of them, In Consequence, is a favourite of mine and I will post the review in the upcoming weeks.

I hope you like her post 🙂


I fell in love with the BBC’s adaptation of North and South first. And then, I slowly fell in love with Elizabeth Gaskell’s book as well. I’m a firm believer that you can love both, despite the inevitable discrepancies between the two forms of art. Here are some of the main differences I see between the film and the book from my perspective as one who reaches for her book when needing a dose of Thornton.


#1 The first meeting between John and Margaret

Hands down, this is the most dramatic and damaging alteration the screenwriter makes from the original source. A stormy confrontation in a frenetic setting completely upends the book’s version in which an outwardly calm exchange takes place between the newly arrived Southern girl and the Milton master in a sitting room of a hotel.

The damage? It paints Thornton as a volatile man, which is very far from the man of great self-control and self-discipline that Gaskell takes pains to describe in the book. (I’ve written about Thornton’s ‘temper’ here)

But I understand the reasons the film needed something more drastic to make Margaret’s disdain for Thornton more understandable for the modern audience. Margaret’s Victorian prejudice against a workingman like Thornton is too subtle for film. And the setting of a quiet room is not very exciting. However, I cringe at the violence we witness from Thornton. I’m convinced just grabbing Stephens and unceremoniously throwing him out of the mill would have been violent enough to shock Margaret’s sensibilities.


#2 Missing history of Margaret’s life in Helstone

In order to get the story rolling in Milton, the mini-series largely skips over the first 6 chapters of the book – chapters that let us get to know Margaret. Left on the cutting room floor is a significant part of what happened to our young heroine on a beautiful day in October when her entire world imploded.

On the very same day Henry proposes – the day that marks the end of her childhood as she had known it — her father drops the bombshell of his decision to leave his position and move to Milton, which shatters all the comfort and security Margaret clings to in her concept of home. The emotional anguish Margaret endures and the responsibility she shoulders during her remaining days in Helstone is only hinted at in the film.

And by the way, Mrs. Hale wasn’t happy in Helstone. Milton is just another reason to keep complaining – aided and abetted by the loyal Dixon.


#3 Henry and the Great Exhibition showdown

Although the lethal glares and verbal sparring between Henry and John at the Great Exhibition makes exquisite drama on film, such an exchange between the two suitors never took place in the book. The scene is a brilliant invention by the screenwriter, allowing the viewer to see the vivid contrast between Southern arrogance and sophistication and the Northern practical, earnest pride. Not only that, but the scene also works as a great device for showing us Margaret’s growing admiration for John and her new home — Milton. Throw in the historical setting of the Great Exhibition of 1851 — one of the England’s proudest moments, and this particular scene ranks as my favorite screenplay invention.


#4 Dinner party argument

The book has Margaret arguing with Thornton several times in the privacy of the Hales’ home. She isn’t so brazen as to chew out the host of an elegant dinner party in front of his own guests. But the public scorching does make good film drama, doesn’t it? Ann Latimer’s finishing school training would never have allowed her to do such an atrocious thing.


#5 Ann Latimer, the silent contender

And speaking of Ann…. There is no Ann Latimer in Gaskell’s book. Maybe this is why she doesn’t speak a word in the film. The mute but comely Ann serves her purpose well. She’s living proof that Hannah isn’t kidding when she boasts that her son is the catch of the town. Whenever Ann appears, we see Margaret’s uncomfortable reaction.

And the viewer is also expected to notice that John has no real interest Ann Latimer, even though she is finishing-school-perfect and mother-approved.


#6 Hannah in the mill

Nowhere does the book ever mention Hannah going to the mill. She wasn’t a dragon overseer of the business at all. It wasn’t her place to be physically involved in such work, although we know she was avidly interested in her son’s business and dealings.

Margaret never steps foot in the mill either. As a matter of fact, there aren’t really any scenes in the book that take place in the clanking, noisy cotton factory.

Adding mill scenes was essential in the film adaptation. The viewer absolutely needed to see the vivid reality of the world John lived in day in and day out. The moment Margaret slides that door open to enter his realm is unforgettable filmmaking magic.


#7 The sly and sprightly Mr Bell

You’ll be relieved to know that Mr. Bell doesn’t suggest matrimony to Margaret in the book. He does mention, however, that he would love to have Margaret as his caretaker or his charge. Mr. Bell’s character is used much the same in the book as in the film, he is perceptive of both Margaret’s value as a unique and strong woman and the mutual “something” going on between John and Margaret.

Unfortunately, the wealthy godfather doesn’t sail off to sunny Argentina in the book. He dies. Of gout. Yes, he’s described as portly in the book. But portly or lithe, I love Mr. Bell for his wit, his keen eye, and his appreciation for Margaret and Thornton.


#8 The bond between Mr Hale and Thornton

The relationship between John and the man who should have been his father-in-law is especially endearing as described in the book. The film only hints at this special friendship that developed between teacher and pupil. We don’t see anything of how John is a rock of spiritual strength to Mr. Hale in his grief after Mrs. Hale dies. (Margaret notices this gentle and profound side of Mr. Thornton’s character.) I miss this deeper aspect of the relationship between the two most important men in Margaret’s life.


#9 Bessy and religion

Gaskell was a compassionate Unitarian, married to a Unitarian minister. She put Christian morality into all her books. Bessy speaks a lot about God and looks forward to a happier afterlife. Margaret reads from the Bible to Bessy. Mr. Hale and Higgins talk of God in their exchange. Margaret is a devout follower of the Church of England who worries about her father’s breach with the church, and her brother’s marriage to a Catholic. The Thorntons do not attend the Church of England.

The harmonizing undertones of bringing characters of varying Christian faith together is mostly lost in the film. Glossing over the religious stuff is probably the modern way, but we lose something of the Victorian reality in skipping it.


#10 The train station ending

The ending of the BBC’s North and South is legendary. And rightfully so. If there were a hall of fame for screen kisses, then Richard Armitage would be venerated there for decades. I don’t think there’s anything to beat The Kiss. It’s pure romantic heaven to watch the tension and misunderstandings of 4 episodes melt into the blissful, tender connection on that station bench.

But, as most people know, Margaret and John don’t meet at the train station in the book, and they certainly don’t seal their final understanding of each other’s feelings by a kiss in public – scandalous behavior! Gaskell’s ending has Thornton come to London, and the final pages place the lovers in a back drawing room – without Henry’s disapproving eyes on them!

Yes, the film ending is breath-taking and brilliant. The range of emotions shown in a matter of moments, the symbolism of finding each other at a half-way point, the open-collar of a man usually tied and bound by his routine, the drama of making a final choice at the sound of the whistle – it all makes the scene exquisite and rich with meaning. And I haven’t even taken into account the acting! I could never condemn the ending, it’s a gift to the world of romantic period drama. It’s a vision etched in the mind and hearts of those fortunate enough to have watched it.

Yet, I love the book ending, too. Line by line, it’s packed with more trembling passion than the film’s final scene. And then there is Thornton on his knees, a silent body-to-body embrace, a brief mutual apology, and some sweet playfulness that leads to a private kiss of unspecified duration. Sigh.



***Author bio***

1446433210076Trudy Brasure is the author of A Heart for Milton, one of the most well-loved continuation stories based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s work. She is known throughout the worldwide community of avid North and South fans for her knowledge of and insights on Gaskell’s story and characters. She has spent the past six years actively discussing and studying North and South and other Victorian literature.

As a hopeless romantic and an fervent enthusiast for humanity’s progress, she loves almost nothing more than to engage in discussion about North and South.

You can find out more about Trudy and her work at:

If you are curious about her books, you can find them at Amazon on the links below:


A Heart for Milton: A Tale from North and South

In Consequence: A Retelling of North and South


And if you still do not own a copy of the BBC adaptation, you can always find it here:

North and South (BBC)



Filed under North and South

36 responses to “North and South: 10 Ways the Film Is Not Like the Book

  1. Thank you, Rita, for having Trudy Brasure as your guest today. I enjoyed reading her post of comparison between the movie and the book.
    Like you, Trudy, I saw the film adaptation first and then read the book. I love both for varying reasons and many are the things that you pointed out as differences. I was sad about the first portrayal of John Thornton since it was inaccurate and led to him being possibly considered a violent man but it certainly set the stage for Margaret’s dislike of him.

    Yes, that kiss at the end would be the all time best in any Hall of Fame of kisses. I do not believe I have seen any on film that compare.

    I have read both of your books and enjoyed them. I hope you are or will be writing more. There just are not enough N&S variations/sequels to be had. I recently read one at C19 that had been suggested to me and I enjoyed it very much.

    Thanks for such a great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for visiting and commenting Janet 😉
      It was a pleasure to have Trudy here to talk about North and South!
      I agree with you, there aren’t as many North and South variations as I would like! Hopefully writers will notice that there is an audience in N&S and start writing more 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • trudystattle

      Thanks, Janet. Glad you enjoyed my post and doubly glad you’ve enjoyed my books. “Pack Clouds Away” is my favorite sequel to Gaskell’s book. It’s only at C19.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I do love both. And the movie kiss may have been BBC, but it was pure Hollywood! 😉


    Liked by 3 people

    • Me too Denise. I love the book because it is obviously more profound and rich, but I love the romance in the adaptation! The kiss and Armitage, well, no need to stay that BBC nailed it with them 😉


    • trudystattle

      I think the BBC has ruined any change of ever remaking a N&S adaptation in the future. They will never surpass the romantic ending they produced with the 2004 version!


  3. Christina Boyd

    Great interview. Made me look at the movie through different lens!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sophia Rose

    I had read Wives & Daughters and North & South before I saw North & South. I caught some of the discrepancies, but not all. Frankly, I got caught up in the movie and stopped noticing. 🙂 I enjoyed Trudy’s guest post sharing the differences and the reasoning. Makes me want to go back and read the book again and then watch the movie. 🙂 I haven’t read a retelling, sequel or variation for N&S so I’ll have to add her books to the pile. I’m now curious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There aren’t as many fan fiction books for N&S as there are for P&P Sophia, but some are very good. I like to read some John and Margaret stories between my Darcy and Elizabeth ones 🙂 I recommend Trudy’s books, and you can find some more suggestions on the North and South folder of this blog 😉


    • trudystattle

      The movie is indeed captivating, which is why I actually recommend watching first before reading the book. There’s always time to go back to the adaptation after reading the book.
      Thanks for the interest in my continuation novels. I really couldn’t let go of the story. I had to see Thornton happy for much longer than two pages! 😉


  5. Really enjoyed your article. I’ve seen the drama and started book (but sidetracked by others!) I realise that there has to be differences when adapting a book into a drama, especially when era has different principles/concerns than ours. Reading your analysis the scriptwriter has concentrated on conveying character rather than depicting society accurately, which, whilst making it accessible to the viewer. seemed to upset the critics at time of screening. Personally, felt the connection between Mr Hale and John Thornton did come across in the drama. To have Mrs Hale unhappy in Merton would have diminished her despair at the change of her circumstances and environment. Whilst I won’t argue about the emotional power of the final scene, my personal favourite is John Thornton standing straightbacked looking out of his window at Margaret departing in his carriage and willing her to turn round.

    Liked by 3 people

    • “Look back, look back at me” is one of those sentences that gets carved in our memory isn’t it Denise?
      That is one of my favorite moments in the BBC adaptation, it was a powerful scene that really touched my heart. I love it!

      Liked by 1 person

    • trudystattle

      The “look back” scene perfectly capture the devastation Thornton feels with Margaret’s loss. This was a moment where the film is particularly brilliant in conveying the desperate emotions that Gaskell describes in her book.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You pointed out everything I noticed and more. you also explained the way the viewer would have felt if they had strictly adhered to the book. The movie did get some things so perfectly that it was like she was describing Richard Armitage when she described John Thornton. The bracelet scene was described so beautifully that I almost cried reading it. Thornton had such love for Margaret and Richard Armitage absolutely captured it with each look and touch. Great comparison. Thank you!


    • trudystattle

      I agree, Richard was amazing in portraying Thornton. He conveyed everything Thornton was feeling without saying a word, most of the time.
      The bracelet scene in the book is full of longing. I think Thornton was terribly lonely and didn’t even realize it. Until Margaret comes along…


  7. Thanks, Trudy and Rita, I greatly enjoyed reading this article. North and South is a great favourite (why, oh why isn’t Richard Armitage doing more films/roles like this????). I tend to like the books that inspired adaptations more than the adaptations themselves, but in this case I think I liked the film more. A lot of nuances from the book were sadly lost in the making of the miniseries, but I’m rather glad that a lot was glossed over too. And IMO ‘Look back! Look back at me” makes up for everything. Just perfect!!
    I certainly would have preferred the final kiss to be more private, that was truly scandalous behaviour 🙂 but it did make for a more dramatic ending.
    Looking forward to reading more N & S fanfiction, I haven’t read anywhere near enough!


    • trudystattle

      Thanks for reading. I think in the case of this adaptation and novel — they’re both amazing. I adore the way Gaskell lets us in Thornton’s head. I haven’t found a literary hero that can quite compare in his anguish. And then in the adaptation, we have Richard Ermitage’s perfect depiction of that tortured, lonely soul.
      Hope you’ll enjoy checking out my N&S variations.


  8. I’m going to have to look up the N&S fanfiction. Because I just don’t have enough to read already!

    Thanks for such an interesting article. I think I’ll have to re-read the book and re-watch the dramatisation now. I’m one who found that violent scene in the mill rather disturbing as well. I realise that many who watched it hadn’t read the book but there ought to have been another way to depict the situation, such as the one Trudy suggests.

    Then there’s the scene at the railway station. Yes, it would never have happened and he would never have appeared so informally dressed in public but…….sigh! It’s absolutely gorgeous, especially the delectable Mr. Armitage.

    Still think it’s a shame he’s never got to portray Darcy.


    • trudystattle

      You can intersperse a little N&S fan fiction into your regular routine. It’s a lovely change to be in Thornton’s mind. 🙂
      I think Armitage would be a great Rochester. He has that way of looking slightly ominous and desperate….


  9. Great article! I found the story the other way around; I read the story first and then the adaptation was screened a short while later so I was really appalled to see Mr Thornton beating somebody as it’s something he would never do, he was too honourable for that. On the whole it’s a wonderful adaptation, (“Look back at me”… sigh!) but I am among the minority who doesn’t like the mini series’ ending. The kiss itself is lovely, but the setting is terrible, and the rudeness to Henry, somebody who Margaret considered as a friend is pretty callous. I was so disappointed that they’d done something which I felt was more made to modern sensibilities than in line with the behaviour of the period. Why couldn’t they just have kissed indoors?!


    • trudystattle

      Hi Ceri, thanks for reading. One of the things I especially miss about the film ending is that dinner scene in London when Thornton and Margaret haven’t seen each other in over a year. There’s a moment when Thornton looks at her and sees again his future without her and his face turns grave… gah!… the way Gaskell describes it makes my stomach clench for him!
      I like to imagine something of that same tender-passionate kiss demonstrated in the film is how they kiss in Aunt Shaw’s back drawing room in the book. Although I’m not sure how they would have stopped without that whistle! lol!


  10. Thanks so much for this. I just included North & South in the Period Dramas Streaming on Netflix – Victorian Era list. The story – in the book and the miniseries – is such a treasure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • trudystattle

      Thanks for reading. I heartily agree. North and South is a masterpiece — both film adaptation and the original novel. I love it when people stumble upon N&S at Netflix. I think that’s where most unsuspecting people find it. And when you do find it, it’s your solemn duty to tell every female acquaintance of your discovery!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: North and South: 10 Ways the Film Is Not Like the Book | Nowhere in Particular RA

  12. Reblogged this on Emmy Z. Madrigal and commented:
    And another take on the movie book comparison. Delightful to explore!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. One of my fav. parts in the book that is not in the movie is when Margaret passes out in the hall and no one ever notices. Cracks me up every time!

    Liked by 2 people

    • trudystattle

      Yes, the miniseries doesn’t like showing Margaret as “weak.” But I think showing what she endures actually shows her amazing strength.
      The book conveys so much more about what she goes through.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes! I so relate to having to be the “adult” in the house even though she is the daughter. Poor girl she has to do and deal with all of her family’s low spirits and fear of confrontation and criminal activity! I think in the movie she came off (at least at first) as a spoiled brat! Glad I read the book for the background. 🙂 great article ! Thank u!

        Liked by 2 people

  14. Reading the book is mandatory to actually get to know these characters, in my point of view. I love the BBC adaptations, and I even prefer some scenes that are different in the adaptation, such as their first encounter, but the book allows us to see the depth of the characters in a way a tv show cannot portray 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: Fitzwilliam Darcy vs. John Thornton | From Pemberley to Milton

  16. Pingback: Falling for Mr. Thornton | Jane Austen Variations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.