I watched the final episode of the BBC’s 2004 adaptation (image right) of Elizabeth Gaskell’s beloved story “North & South” last night–again. I have watched it countless times–especially the final train station kissing scene where the reticent lovers John and Margaret finally acknowledge their love for each other.
The love story of John Thornton and Margaret Hale came to life for me with the searingly nuanced character portrayals by the immensely talented actors Richard Armitage as John and Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret. No two actors in a film, or in a love story, have moved me the way that Richard as John and Daniela as Margaret have moved me–to smiles, to tears, and to joy again and again. Whether it was the hurt in John’s eyes in thinking that Margaret was lost to him forever, or the regret that Margaret instantly felt in refusing John’s proposal–and so many moments of shyness and awkwardness, and even stubbornness between them–that makes me root for their love to blossom every time I watch the film.
And John’s and Margaret’s awakening to their heart’s true love and soul mate in each other in the final scene at the train station always moves me with its romantic poignancy. John is incandescently happy when he sees Margaret on the station platform as their two trains idle before passing–he is heading home to the North after visiting her idyllic Helstone in a pilgrimage of sorts, and Margaret is heading South to London after visiting Milton and not finding him there to discuss her “business proposition”. John has been brought low by financial reverses and must give up his mill. Margaret is now in possession of the mill ownership and Mr. Bell’s other wealth transferred to her as his goddaughter, so she offers funds to assist Mr. Thornton to reopen the mill. She has no expectation of Mr. Thornton loving her in return–she selflessly hopes to help him regain what he has lost. And yet, Margaret’s gesture of offering all of her newly bestowed wealth to him conveys to John what his heart has longed to discern–that she loves and accepts him.
Their first kisses in silent declaration of John’s and Margaret’s mutual love are sweetly tender (original image image from RANet, my edit right). And their kisses are scandalous for that time of strict social rules for interactions between unmarried persons. The shockingly clandestine nature of their meeting is especially true with Margaret initiating the first lingering kiss from her upon John’s hand that has gently clasped hers in thanks for her generosity. This bold move of Margaret’s frees John from the chains of propriety as he acts upon his heart’s desire as he lovingly takes her face into his hands and he kisses her tenderly–two kisses at first, and then four adoring kisses, which she responds in kind to. And though Margaret’s hesitant pulling away from John as the whistle sounds for her train to depart for London is interpreted by John as rejection, she affirms her commitment to him by swiftly returning to him to travel home with him to Milton. The moment John spies Margaret’s reflection in one of his train’s windows–with a lovely mise en scene of cotton bales on the far platform as seen through the window–his joy cannot be contained as he gives her a luminous smile and asks “You’re coming home with me?” Margaret smiles lovingly up at John in response before entering his train compartment–to return home with him to Milton and become his wife.
“North & South” is a story about second chances, and about last chances–in life and in love. It is a story about learning to understand another’s perspective–as they learn to understand your perspective. And it is a story about two people for whom their love is new and wondrous, as much as their love is transformative–John’s and Margaret’s destinies now lovingly intertwined forever. And thus with Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe bringing these timeless characters and their love story to vivid life, John’s and Margaret’s tale of love is etched indelibly upon my heart.
And so let us now enjoy the North & South love theme music and images of that final scene via lucifmello’s lovely video, “North & South Soundtrack – Northbound Train”:
Wishing you a peaceful and loving Sunday! Hugs!