Music Monday: BBC’s ‘North and South’ (Original Score) by Martin Phipps

Cover of the North and South original score composed by Martin Phipps.
Source: Soundtrack

One of the most alluring qualities of BBC’s North and South is its moving score, composed by Martin Phipps. You may be familiar with the British composer’s work. Since the release of North and South original score, Phipps has gone on to work on other television period dramas, such as Sense and Sensibility (2008), Peaky Blinders (2013), and The Crown (2019-2020). But it’s his work on the miniseries adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel that remains one of his most memorable, and it’s one of the greatest tragedies by BBC for never officially releasing it. 

Despite never officially releasing the score, fans of the miniseries often rave about the music. The score chiefly utilizes strings and the piano to provide the bleak atmosphere of Milton and highlight the relationship between Margaret Hale and John Thornton. The characters have different variations of the main theme–the delicate piano notes throughout mirror Margaret’s gentleness while the strings capture Thornton’s stern character. In “Thornton’s Walk”, the track opens with a sole guitar, evoking Thornton’s feelings that he will be alone after Margaret rejects his proposal. Meanwhile, Phipps uses a brighter and more idyllic sound for the scenes at Helstone to further cement Margaret’s romanticization of the south and her former home. 

Track “I’ve Seen Hell” is the main theme, and what a majestic theme it is! It starts off with strings, low and grim but still beautiful, until it finally builds up in the end and covers you in goosebumps. The lower part represents Thornton while the higher represents Margaret, connecting the two. It’s not hard to listen to the track and think of the scene it accompanies–the narration of Margaret’s “I believe I’ve seen hell, and it’s white. It’s snow white” as the shot cuts to Thornton striding through his cotton mill–paints a vivid picture hard to forget. In a sense, the track also conjures the grandness and mysteriousness of the mills and Thornton’s role in it. 

Although the score deserves a proper release, there’s no stopping you from watching the series to bask in its mesmerizing greatness. Martin Phipps proves you don’t have to reach for every instrument in the orchestra to create a score that captivates the burning relationship of two characters as well as the social issues of eighteenth-century factories. But if you prefer to have just a listen, I will not-so-discreetly suggest you search for some playlists on a certain large video streaming site that is besotted with the color red. In other words, the North and South original score is available on YouTube. Happy listening!

Further Recommended Original Scores: Mr. Malcolm’s List by Amelia Warner

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