Grace Notes: ‘I’ve seen Hell, and it’s white. Snow white’

If you were to ask what my favourite costume drama was, my answer would immediately be the 2004 version of ‘North and South’ (with the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice coming a close second… who doesn’t love the lake scene!?). I’ve introduced it to many of my friends, all of whom have loved it and gone on to recommend it to others. I saw the TV adaptation before I read the book, but I fell in love with the book too and was given both the series and the novel in a ‘survival pack’ when I went to uni.


(I do not own this image)

The story of North and South is tragic, heartbreaking and gritty. The acting is wonderful and you get completely sucked into the events of the episode. My mum and I watch it together a fair amount, and we often end up staying up late into the night to finish it because we are so engrossed by the story. The other thing that draws you in however is the music. The soundtrack was composed my Martin Phipps and it’s so beautiful and haunting and it really compliments the story unfolding.

Although it is scored for full orchestra, the whole ensemble is rarely playing at the same time, with Martin opting for just strings, solo wind or harp. There are a few patterns of notes that recur through many of the themes and this links all of the segments of music together.

Here are my top three scenes and soundtracks:

3) The opening of the first episode is one of the scenes that sticks with me. Margret is sat on a train and there are ‘bird-like’ entries in the flute, then the clarinet enters playing a countermelody and finally the bassoon, before a solo cello joins. All this is underpinned by the harp playing broken chords. It’s such a bittersweet piece of music that’s also slightly on edge, and alerts the viewer to the fact that something is changing.

2) The scene at the end of the episode where Margret is writing a letter to her cousin and she says the line ‘I’ve seen Hell, and it’s white. Snow white.’ There is a low rumble in the strings and then a solo cello plays the haunting main theme, before the whole section joins in with violin harmonics in the background. Then the orchestra, including brass and wind come in swelling to a climax, before fading out and ending with the solo cello. This perfectly accompanies the end shot of the mill running with ‘snow white’ cotton in the air, a both heavenly and hellish sight.

1) My favourite scene and music has to be the final one (this is possibly my favourite scene of anything I’ve seen…). For those of you who have watched ‘North and South’, I mean the station scene (you’ll know it!), and those of you who haven’t should, so I won’t spoil the plot for you! The scene has very little dialogue, and so the soundtrack is very prominent. It’s a harp and piano broken chord accompaniment, with a solo cello playing a slow, sustained and beautiful melody. As the scene continues, more of the string section joins in, intensifying and broadening the music and wonderfully accompanying the drama.

As I’m writing this I’m listening to the soundtrack (one of my flatmates has just come running in getting very excited that I was watching North and South! I felt bad disappointing her by saying I was just listening to the soundtrack for my blog!) and even without the drama accompanying the music it’s still bringing a smile to my face or reminding me of a particularly heart-breaking scene.

You may be able to tell by the tone of this post that I love ‘North and South’. Everyone I know who’s seen it loves it too, so I can’t recommend it enough. You’ll soon be drawn into the gritty industrial world and the lives of Margret Hale and John Thornton and all of the haunting melodies will stay with you long after the end credits have rolled. In fact, I think I may go and watch it now…


3 thoughts on “Grace Notes: ‘I’ve seen Hell, and it’s white. Snow white’

  1. Sarah says:

    This soundtrack makes me remember when I watched as 15- year old teenage girl. I simply love the Part when Margaret first sees thornton – this scene and soundtrack were so impressive: this tall, black stature in this dancing white fluff – like ebony in the middle of snow.
    My favorite above all i “Thorntons Walk” and “Northbound Train.”
    But i am very sad for that there never whre notes so that i could play it on my clarienett.


    • Yes thats such an amazing scene! I also love the ‘look back at me’ scene. Breaks my heart every time!
      Yes, as i said above ‘northbound train’ is possibly my favourite scene of anything ever!
      Yes its a shame theres no orchestral score to buy! I’d love to have played it in my youth orchestras!


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