I'm so, so glad I watched the British miniseries North and South* before I had kids. That's because it was split into four episodes, and even though I started watching it way too late at night, I couldn't help myself: I just kept watching episode after episode, until I was through them all and it was early the next morning. Mercifully, if I got no sleep in those days, I was just grouchy at my job and with Mr. CR the following day and no real harm was done. Now if I don't get enough sleep there are two small boys around just waiting to push my buttons, and I really prefer not to lose my temper with them from sheer exhaustion. For the most part, now, when I say to myself, CR, you have GOT to go to bed right now, I actually do listen, and I go.
But I digress. The real point is this:
"North and South" is the best BBC adaptation ever. (And many British viewers might agree with that assessment: when it first aired, so many viewers visited the BBC's website message boards to talk about it that they crashed the site.)
I'm not exaggerating.
It's a 2004 adaptation of the Elizabeth Gaskell** novel by the same name, and it focuses on the story of Margaret Hale, whose family must move from their comfortable position in the warm "South" of England (due to some dust-up of her pastor father's, when he has a crisis of faith), to the industrial and cold "North" of Milton--which is based on the city of Manchester. Once there, Margaret's father takes up tutoring, and she tries to help the poor in much the same way she did when she held a more privileged social position. They meet John Thornton***--a prosperous self-made man and mill owner, who lives with his forceful mother and his sister--when Thornton visits Margaret's father for tutoring.
I'm describing it terribly. Would it help if I tell you the cast is superb? That there's a heartbreaking scene where Thornton desperately begs Margaret just to look back at him (in which the actor portraying Thornton does some of the best acting I've seen)? That it contains some great labor history context? That it also contains the best kiss ever put on film? That the soundtrack is gorgeous?
Okay, I'll admit, it's not much of a laugh-fest. People die in it at a somewhat alarming rate, and it's totally typical that Thornton, who tries to be a somewhat decent mill owner, is not as prosperous as his colleagues, who work their employees as cruelly as possible. But it is very, very satisfying romantic melodrama.
Go watch it. Just don't start it at ten p.m., or you will be beyond tired the next day, because you will have to watch the WHOLE THING.
*By the way, if you want to find the Anglophiles around you, just talk about this miniseries. Most non-Anglophiles will think you are referring to the American miniseries "North and South," about the Civil War. But if someone responds to you by saying something along the lines of "Oh, my God, North and South, John Thornton," or by quoting something like "I wish to marry you because I love you!" you'll know that you have found a kindred spirit.
**Here's some fun trivia: evidently there's also a 1975 BBC adaptation, starring Patrick Stewart.
***Played by the totally hunky Richard Armitage, also known to my friend (and to me, forever after, once she told me) as "Red Hot Dickie."