It is my intention to have only one more “part” to this review (make it a total of three). In this part, I will attempt to cover the episodes 2, 3 and most of 4, leaving my last “part” devoted to the ending (as portrayed in the production) and sum up my thoughts to the production overall.
Before we dive in, let me remind everyone that this review is being written in a way to answer an unspoken question, ‘Is this production a faithful retelling of the story? Is it accurate to the book?‘ I had the book, in hand, when I watched the production for the second time, because of these questions. So with that being said, let’s continue.
Part 1 of my review included examinations of the Hales and an overall look at the first episode. In this part, we will take a look at the Milton residents as well as some key scenes.
Episode 1 ended with the start of the strike. This, of course, brings us closer to Higgins, Bessie, Mary and Boucher. So lets take a look at our working class characters. In other reviews, many have stated how Higgins and Bessie are more accurately portrayed in this production. I can’t say that I disagree with that sentiment. This is especially true of Bessie’s character. The production captured more of Bessie’s focus on the afterlife and the book of Revelations, (found at the end of the Bible). Her fixation of dying is more pitiful and delivers reality to Margaret that had lacked in her life. The actress selected for this role was much different that I had pictured from the book but that has no lasting effect on the production.
Moving onto to Higgins, the screen writer handled Higgins dialect beautifully. In that respect, I felt Higgins was represented well. For me personally though, I struggled seeing the sympathetic element of Higgins character in these early episodes. His passion for the Union is clear but his human side was less clear to me. Above even this, my largest issue came with the interpretation of Mary Higgins. The book speaks of her being shy, timid & meek, but there is no indication that she was mentally challenged. When it comes to the over all story arc, Mary is a very minor role, so this issue doesn’t challenge the over all flow of the story. Yet this alteration was bothersome to the near point of offense for me. I didn’t like this representation of her character, at all. I didn’t realize how protective I was of her.
Boucher was portrayed stronger and older than I pictured him in the book. He appeared to be equal to Higgins in age, yet his ‘childer’ were much younger. (this is one of the elements that causes me to view him younger). Unlike Mary, Boucher is a secondary character that plays an important role in the progression of the story. Higgins showed the thinking side of the working class, where Boucher displayed the raw emotional side. The character that is easily swayed to incite the riot because of the desperation he feels for his suffering wife and children. This Boucher plays a “leadership” role in the actions of the rioters when they arrive at Marlborough Mills, which is not given to him in the book.
That brings us to the Thornton family. It has also been stated in some reviews that this representation of Hannah’s character was more accurate. In this area, I couldn’t disagree more. Don’t get me wrong I am not criticizing the actresses performance, because I believe she portrayed the character she was given beautifully. My issue lies with the screenplays characterization of her. Though Hannah of the book is blunt and even at times harsh, she was never purposely cruel. Her charges to her son were forward and even forceful yet her devotion and commitment to him was even stronger still. The book presented this particular element plainly. It makes the statement that her affection ran deep with John and she was completely tender with Fanny. In Ch12, ‘Morning Calls’ this thought is brought to the reader’s attention. “A stranger, a careless observer might have considered that Mrs. Thornton’s manner to her children betokened far more love to Fanny than to John.” What I haven’t done is include the further text in this chapter where Gaskell reveals the mother’s heart that Hannah possessed. This character felt void of these feelings. You didn’t sense the element that she John and Fanny were her life.
Jumping a bit ahead in this adaptation, the callous insensitivity is obvious when Hannah comes to fulfill her promise to the dying Maria. Hannah in this production tells Margaret that her mother “…she could see, as we all can, your unhappy inclinations toward immodesty!”. Hannah is a hard woman who finds it difficult to show affection but she is not cruel. Saying such a thing to a daughter who is still freshly grieving the loss of her mother, was heartless and vicious! This is such a misrepresentation of Hannah’s character that it twisted my stomach. This script took Hannah at face value and then twisted her further.
On the other hand, one thing that I did like was the way that Thornton interacted with his mother. Many times he would take her blunt words with good humor and stood his ground. Their bantering was amusing and enjoyable to watch. Yet, one thing that didn’t feel right was how suddenly John would seem to cower to her forceful suggestions. Thornton in the book does heed his mothers advise on many occasions, but in each of these instances, it was clear that Thornton weighed her words and took from them what he felt was worthy. He did not just blindly do her bidding on a whim. In this production, the mischaracterization that Thornton was a ‘momma’s boy’ felt more true, which is not true of the original.
That takes us to Fanny. Fanny in this adaptation is quite different than she appears in the book. The actress brings that “comic” element to her character which made her fun to watch, yet once again Fanny seemed to change at the drop of a hat. One minute she was flighty and fickle, the next minute strong and self-reliant. I have no real issue with her being both of this things but the transition from one to the other was never defined causing it to feel odd and out-of-place.
That completes the examination of the secondary characters, so lets move onto some of the key scenes in these episodes. A major element in this story surrounding the riot… and then it’s vital aftermath. The importance of this scenes plays heavily on our main characters but also a number of the secondary characters.
Though some have stated that they liked this portrayal better, for me the scene seemed contrived and staged. I felt no element of fear or a tension that violence was on the verge. This was hindered by the fact that several of the actors portraying the rioters were smiling and one seemed to be laughing.
The set I also felt was a problem. Margaret and Thornton were only a step above the mill grounds. Where the book describes them as standing above the rioters, looking down on them. RS performance and Margaret’s cry for peace was nearly comical. You didn’t sense any of the desperation in her pleas nor did you feel the sense of danger in her tone. Now one thing that I did like was that they did have Thornton walk down into the midst of the crowd. In the end, the scene lacked the raw emotion that was present on the pages of the book.
Of course, one of the biggest assets to this production is the fact that they included Thornton carrying Margaret in after she was struck. Now, I wish they would have fully played the scene out as it is in the book yet I do understand why they altered it. Since they changed the scene leading up to the confrontation with the rioters, they had to alter this element as well. The reasoning behind the first change eludes me. To have Hannah in the room when Margaret presses Thornton to go and face his workers seems odd and then produces actions out of character for Hannah. It makes little sense. They already honed in on Hannah’s harsher side (and even made her cruel), for even a gentler Hannah would never had kept quite while his reckless young woman encouraged her son to go down and place his very life in danger. There would have been little question of her feelings on the matter, to everyone in the room. The whole body of this sequence of scenes makes little sense. Still all in all, it was rather nice to see Thornton scoop Margaret up into his arms and utter a portion of those romantic lines. (he did not recite the lines word for word, elements were omitted)
Another alteration in this production is how Margaret learns of the ramifications of her actions to protect JT during the riot. Instead of overhearing Fanny tell her mother what the servants saw, it is Dixon who makes Margaret aware of the implications of her actions. Dixon who happened to be in the right place and the right time, is told the details of Margaret’s involvement. Though I found this choice of change odd yet there were elements of Dixon’s speech to Margaret that I liked. I loved how Dixon articulated, “Spinster that I may be, I tell you, it is not just bad women who have such feelings and those who say different, are lyin!” This line, which is obviously not in Gaskell’s original text, drove home to me what I’ve known for a while but not completely understood. It also gave me a deeper understanding into why Margaret fights her attraction to Thornton at the beginning. She was having feelings that, for all her life, was told were not becoming of a lady of her standing. Then for this man to be a manufacturer made it even worse. No wonder her heart was already hopeless lost by the time she accepted it!
Another element that I find difficult to understand is the omission of Leonard’s and then Margaret’s lie. This is a key sequence of events that greatly shape the two main characters. Margaret learns powerful lessons about herself and Thornton. We also know, from past discussions, that this whole element and the chain of events that follow play a large role in Margaret coming to understand her heart. Leaving this out I really believe played a role and making the overall story seem flat and emotionless.
Lastly, let’s take a look at the proposal scene. I do believe that it was performed well, with much of the dialogue coming directly from the book. It was enjoyable to see such beautiful lines being played out. Sadly, once again, seeing this as a perpetual issue, the passion that is found in the book, is absent here. I didn’t see the look of fear in Margaret’s eyes nor the sense of her feeling as a caged animal that swiftly changes to attack, in an act of defense of that condition. In turn, I didn’t see the agitation in Thornton leading up to his proposal. The anxiousness found in him when he discovers that she is no longer in his home, then the determination to ‘check’ on her that is only deterred by the pleas of his mother. This Thornton did not seem like a man burning up with the desire to express his love. Then.. standing his ground against her attack, meeting each insult passion and hurt but also with integrity and control. There is absolutely no sign of the ‘unshed tears’ as he leaves the room. In the end, though the dialogue was delivered with precision, it lacked the rawness found in the original text.
To sum up, though we do find more direct lines from the book, this production lacks the power found in the story as it unfolds. I do fully acknowledge that cutting down such an intricate storyline, with so much of the story delivered through the thoughts and subtle actions of the characters, must be a daunting endeavor to say the least. I respect the production team as well as the actors for the jobs they took on. Though I find it falling short on the real power to this story, I do understand why some do not have the same issues that I have had.
–I am currently in the process of writing the final part of this review. In that review we will cover a bit more of the characterizations of our two main characters, a look at the ending given and then a final wrap up and review of the production in it’s entirety. I hope that this last part will post in just a few days. I appreciate your patience!
Once again, all comments are welcome. Do you disagree with my observations? Do you feel this production did a great job conveying passion in the characters and scenes? How about the riot scene? Are you among those that feel it was tense and nail-biting? Or maybe you do agree with me. Share what your reaction to these scenes and characters portrayed. I would love to hear all thoughts. I actually hope those of you that disagree with me will say why. Giving those who have not yet seen the production a balanced view of it. I look forward to hearing from all of you!