I fell totally in love with this movie the first time I saw it. I was hesitant to read the book ... I'm sure you've had the feeling at some time---you know it won't be the same, and it might change the way you enjoy the movie, and maybe you'll end up being mad at the way the movie was made, wishing it could be more like the book, etc., etc. But read it, I finally did, and I quite enjoyed the book. (But the movie's better. IMHO. :)
Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South has nothing to do with the American Civil War. We'll just clear that up from the get-go. But it is about the struggle between two geographic areas and their conflicting ideals and worldviews. Margaret is from the South of England. Her father, a pastor, loses faith in the church, quits his job, and moves his family off to the North of England, to Milton, a place as different as possible from the idyllic and countrified Helstone they used to call home. There Margaret has to overcome her natural prejudice against the industrial people and way of life she encounters---a way of life totally embodied by the leading man: Mr. Thornton.
In typical 1800s style, the book has lots of long stretches of character monologues, and a couple of the main characters are Northern mill workers whose accents were often difficult to parse. So the reading was kind of slow going. Even so, this is a lovely, complex book, very Pride and Prejudice in its themes and character development, I thought. Feel free to chime in, anyone else who's read the book/seen the movie. It's so girly. I loved it.