Sarah's ambitions for her school find their focus in Lydia Holly, the gifted eldest child of a labourer and his wife who live with their six children in a shanty town on the fast eroding South Riding cliffs. In the Depression of the 1930s, these families are just managing to hold on to their livelihoods and to their homes, perched as they are on the very edge of England. Education offers Lydia a way out, but fate has other plans for the overstretched Holly family, and in spite of her best efforts Lydia must turn her back on the glittering prizes.
Joe Astell's housing scheme would transform the lives of the South Riding poor, but there are some tricky politics to negotiate before the scheme becomes a reality, and some of his fellow councillors are more interested in lining their own pockets than in public works. Lusty Methodist minister Alfred Huggins sees a heaven-sent opportunity to pay off a blackmailer. Councillor Snaith has more or less told him where the estate is to be built; all he needs to do is buy a few acres and wait for the price to rise.
Meanwhile Robert Carne, haunted by memories of his beautiful wife Muriel, must face the consequences of a life spent paying for an act of madness a decade and a half before. With the bank threatening to repossess his home, it is time for him to make some serious changes. His decision takes him to Manchester, where he runs into Sarah. Christmas is just around the corner, and away from the strains of life in the South Riding, Robert and Sarah enjoy each other's company. Neither is prepared for the events that unfold.
|Robert Carne||David Morrissey|
|Sarah Burton||Anna Maxwell Martin|
|Mrs Beddows||Penelope Wilton|
|Joe Astell||Douglas Henshall|
|Lydia Holly||Charlie May-Clark|
|Miss Sigglesthwaite||Brid Brennan|
|Midge Carne||Katherine McGolpin|
|Gaius Drew||Ian Bartholomew|
|Young Robert Carne||Daniel West|
|Muriel Carne||Lydia Wilson|
|Mr Holly||Shaun Dooley|
|Mrs Holly||Jennifer Hennessy|
|Gertie Holly||Alexandra Pearson|
|Anthony Snaith||Peter Firth|
|Mrs Brimsley||Marie Critchley|
|Alfred Huggins||John Henshaw|
|Bessy Warbuckle||Janine Mellor|
|Mrs Huggins||Penny Layden|
|Reg Aythorne||John Paul Hurley|
|Mrs Oldroyd||Wendy Patterson|
|Lord Port||William Rodell|