The Major Problems of “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986)

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THE MAJOR PROBLEMS OF “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986)

In the eyes of many fans of the trilogy of miniseries based upon John Jakes’ saga, ”The NORTH AND SOUTH Trilogy”, the only miniseries not worthy of the entire saga is the third one – ”HEAVEN AND HELL: North and South Book III”. I wish I could agree with them. After all, the production values for ”BOOK III” had not been as impressive as the other two. And of the three miniseries, ”NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” had the best costume designs. But looking at the three miniseries from the prospective of a writer, I have finally come to the conclusion that it was ”BOOK II” (set during the Civil War), and not ”BOOK III” that ended up being a lot more disappointing to me.

None of the three miniseries were exact copies of the novels from which they had been adapted. Changes were made in all three. Despite some flaws, I had no problems with most of the changes in “BOOK I” and “BOOK III”. But I found some of the changes in ”BOOK II” to be very questionable. In fact, some of these changes really did nothing to serve the miniseries’ story, except pad it unnecessarily in order to ensure that it would last six episodes.

Below are some examples of the questionable plotlines I found in “BOOK II”:

*Around the end of Episode I, Brett Main Hazard (Genie Francis) – a South Carolina belle who had recently married Pennsylvania-born army officer, Billy Hazard (Parker Stevenson) – and her maid, Semiramis (Erica Gimpel), had left Washington D.C. just before the Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861). The former had received a written note about Madeline LaMotte (Lesley Anne Down)’s kidnapping by her estranged husband (David Carradine) and the injuries that Brett’s mother – Clarissa Main (Jean Simmons) – had suffered following a barn fire at the Main’s South Carolina plantation, Mont Royal. Brett and Semiramis finally reached Mont Royal in November 1861. I have a lot of problems with this.

1) Why was the message about Clarissa and Madeline sent to Brett in Washington D.C. and not to Brett’s older brother, General Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) in Richmond? It would have been easier to reach him, since Richmond was inside Confederate territory.

2) Would it have been easier for Brett and Semiramis to remain in Richmond and wait for Orry to depart for South Carolina? What was the point of them leaving him a message and continuing their journey south? They would have reached Mont Royal a lot sooner.

3) Why did it take them three to four months to reach South Carolina? It took them at least less than a week to travel from Washington D.C. to Richmond, Virginia – despite being delayed by Union troops. They were on horseback. So why did it take them an additional three-and-a-half months to reach Mont Royal in South Carolina?

*Episode I revealed that both George Hazard and Orry Main served as military aides for their respective political leaders – Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Between Episode I and early Episode III, George provided information to Lincoln on battle results and on the President’s behalf, interviewed General Ulysses S. Grant in Tennessee, to see if the latter was the right man to take over the Army of the Potomoc in Virginia. George became a field commander right before the Battle of Gettysburg. Orry not only provided battle results and other information to Davis, he also served as some kind of quartermaster and investigator of corruption within the Confederacy. He became a field commander right before the Battle of Fort Steadman in Episode Six. I had a lot of problems with this.

1) Although both George and Orry had graduated from West Point’s Class of 1846 and served in the Mexican-American War, they only served for a duration of at least eighteen months. Both men, due to personal reasons, had left the Army by the late winter/early spring of 1848. How on earth did both managed to acquire such high positions – militarily and politically – at the start of the Civil War, thirteen years later? Even the younger members in their families – Billy Hazard and Charles Main – had more military experience before the war – nearly five years apiece.

2) Neither George or Orry had acquired any further military experiences or participated in any political movements or organizations in their respective home states of Pennsylvania and South Carolina, during those thirteen years between 1848 and 1861.

3) Although George primarily served as an adviser for Lincoln before becoming a field commander, Orry served in a confusing mixture of duties that included military adviser, quartermaster, and investigator. What the hell? It almost seemed as if the screenwriters could not make up their minds on what capacity Orry had served in the Confederate Army, before becoming a field commander during the war’s final month.

4) In the early summer of 1863, George became an artillery commander in the Army of the Potomoc. I am aware that he had graduated from West Point near the top of class, ranking sixth. But in 1846, George had decided to choose the Infantry in which to serve. His only previous military experience before the Battle of Gettysburg was fifteen months as a junior infantry officer during the Mexican-American War. How on earth did he end up in artillery, with no previous experience in that particular field?

George and Orry’s military experiences during the war smacked of a great deal of bad continuity, lack of logic and confusion in this production. I will further explore the

*In Episode Three, despondent over being unable to see Brett for two years, Billy decides to go AWOL following the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) and head south to South Carolina to see his wife Brett. Upon his arrival at Mont Royal, he stays there less than 24 hours and leaves to return to the Army. He returned to duty in Hiram Burdam (Kurtwood Smith)’s Sharpshooter regiment in late April/early May 1864, in time to participate in the Battle of the Wilderness. And I had problems with this.

1) It took Billy less than a month to travel from Southern Pennsylvania (Gettysburg) to Mont Royal in South Carolina. Yet, it took him at least eight to nine months to rejoin his regiment, who were back in Virginia by the time of his arrival. Why did it take him longer to travel from South Carolina to Virginia, than it did for him to travel from Southern Pennsylvania to South Carolina? He was on horseback.

2) Billy had been AWOL from the Army for at least nine to ten months (July 1863 – late April/early May 1864). Why did Colonel Burdan fail to punish him for abandoning his post without permission . . . for so long? In the spring of 1864, the Union Army was not exactly desperate for an increase in manpower, unlike the Confederate Army. In fact, Billy never even faced a court martial or trial of any kind for his actions. His only punishments were a stern lecture from Burdan and being passed over for a promotion to the rank of captain. This is illogical . . . even for a fictional story.

*Charles Main (Lewis Smith) and Augusta Barclay (Kate McNeil) first met each other while the former was on a scouting mission for the Confederacy and the latter was smuggling medicine in July 1861. They met again, the following year, when Charles appeared at her farm, wounded. In the spring of 1864, following the Battle of the Wilderness, they began a love affair that lasted until they said good-bye for the last time in February 1865. Two months later, following the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox, Charles returned to Barclay Farm and learned that Augusta had died while giving birth to his son, Augustus Charles. Charles learned that Augusta’s South Carolina relatives had taken custody of Charles Augustus Main and returned to Charleston. There, Charles took custody of his son for the first time. I have a problem.

1) Charles and Augusta saw each other for the last time in February 1865. When Charles returned to her farm, two months later, her former servant – Washington (John Nixon) – informed him that she had recently died from giving birth to Charles’ son. Yet, Augusta certainly did not look pregnant, during Charles’ last visit two months ago – when the unborn baby should have been at least six to seven months old. And she was wearing a corset.

2) Following his discovery that he was a father, it did not take Charles very long to return to South Carolina and claim his child. Yet, the recently born Charles Augustus Main looked at least between one to two years old. If that had been the child’s real age, Charles and Augusta’s son would have been born a year earlier – before they had consummated their relationship in May 1864.

*After being driven from Mont Royal by the discovery of a family secret by Ashton Main Huntoon (Terri Garber), Madeline Main (Lesley Anne-Down) settles in Charleston around July-September 1863. The following spring in May 1864, she meets a former slave/refugee named Jim (Bumper Robinson) and his sick mother. Because of this meeting, Madeline decides to offer aid to many of Charleston’s war refugees – whether they are ex-slaves or poor whites. She also learns about Jim and his mother’s personal history. Apparently, they were Tennessee slaves who were freed upon the arrival of Union troops at their former master’s plantation, who decided to make their way to Charleston.

1) WHAT IN THE HELL IS THIS? Why on earth would recently emancipated slaves make their way deep into Confederate territory? Did the writers of the miniseries honestly believe that slaves were that stupid? Jim and his mother were from Tennessee. They could have easily made their way to any of the following cities:

*Nashville, Tennessee – which fell to Union troops in February 1862
*Memphis, Tennessee – captured by the Union in June 1862
*New Orleans, Louisiana – fell to Union troops in April 1862
*Louisville, Kentucky – which remained in the Union throughout the war

*Vicksburg, Mississippi – which fell to Union forces in July 1863

Any of the above cities were closer to the plantation owned by Michael’s former owner and could have provided safe refuge for him and his mother. Certainly not Charleston, South Carolina, which was too far and still Confederate territory by the spring of 1864.

2) The writers could have written Michael and his mother as South Carolina slaves. And yet . . . they would have been wiser to head for Hilton Head, the only safe haven for runaway slaves in South Carolina, until February 1865.

As I had stated earlier, the flaws mentioned in this article are merely samples of many I had spotted in “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”. Do not get me wrong. I do not dislike the 1986 miniseries. But it featured flaws in its screenplay that makes me doubt the prevailing view among the saga’s fans that it is superior to the last chapter in John Jakes’ tale. Mind you, “HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III” is far from perfect. But the flaws featured in “BOOK II”makes it easy for me to regard it as my least favorite chapter in the trilogy.

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Top Ten Favorite HISTORY Documentaries

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Below is a list of my favorite history documentaries:

TOP TEN FAVORITE HISTORY DOCUMENTARIES

1 - Ken Burns The Civil War

1. “The Civil War” (1990) – Ken Burns produced this award-winning documentary about the U.S. Civil War. Narrated by David McCullough, the documentary was shown in eleven episodes.

2 - Supersizers Go-Eat

2. “The Supersizers Go/Eat” (2008-2009) – Food critic Giles Coren and comedian-broadcaster Sue Perkins co-hosted two entertaining series about the culinary history of Britain (with side trips to late 18th century France and Imperial Rome).

3 - MGM - When the Lion Roared

3. “MGM: When the Lion Roared” (1992) – Patrick Stewart narrated and hosted this three-part look into the history of one of the most famous Hollywood studios – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).

4 - Africans in America

4. “Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery” (1998) – Angela Bassett narrated this four-part documentary on the history of slavery in the United States, from the Colonial era to Reconstruction.

5 - Queen Victoria Empire

5. “Queen Victoria’s Empire” (2001) – This PBS documentary is a two-part look at the British Empire during the reign of Queen Victoria. Donald Sutherland narrated.

6 - Motown 40 - The Music Is Forever

6. “Motown 40: The Music Is Forever” (1998) – Diana Ross hosted and narrated this look into the history of Motown, from its inception in 1958 to the 1990s.

7 - Ken Burns The War

7. “The War” (2007) – Ken Burns created another critically acclaimed documentary for PBS. Narrated by Keith David, this seven-part documentary focused upon the United States’ participation in World War II.

8 - Manor House

8. “The Edwardian Manor House” (2002) – This five-episode documentary is also a reality television series in which a British family assume the identity of Edwardian aristocrats and live in an opulent Scottish manor with fifteen (15) people from all walks of life participating as their servants.

9 - Elegance and Decadence - The Age of Regency

9. “Elegance and Decadence: The Age of Regency” (2011) – Historian Dr. Lucy Worsley presented and hosted this three-part documentary about Britain’s Regency era between 1810 and 1820.

10 - Ken Burns The West

10. “The West” (1996) – Directed by Steven Ives and produced by Ken Burns, this eight-part documentary chronicled the history of the trans-Appalachian West in the United States. Peter Coyote narrated.

HM - Fahrenheit 9-11

Honorable Mention: “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004) – Michael Moore co-produced and directed this Oscar winning documentary that took a critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and its coverage in the news media.

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – Episode Two “1844-1848” Commentary

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“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – EPISODE TWO “1844-1848” Commentary

Unlike Episode One, the second episode of the 1985 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” covered a slightly longer time span. This episode focused on George Hazard and Orry Main’s personal and professional lives for a period of three years and five (or six) months – between the fall of 1844 and the early winter of 1848. This episode not only covered their last two years at the West Point Academy, but also their military experiences during the Mexican-American War

Episode Two opens during the fall of 1844, in which George and Orry have embarked upon their third year at the West Point Academy. Orry has been sleep walking through most of his courses, due to his unhappiness over his love Madeline Fabray’s recent marriage to his father’s neighbor, Justin La Motte. But Orry’s apathy over his personal life disappears when he and George begin to notice upperclassman Elkhannah Bent’s continuing abuse toward their fellow classmate, Ned Fisk. The two friends and classmates George Pickett, George McClellan and Thomas Jackson decide to do something about Bent by setting up the latter to get caught with a local prostitute, who happened to be a favorite of one of the Academy’s instructors, Lieutenant DeJong. Although their plan succeeds, George and Orry’s actions earn them Bent’s undying antipathy which will have long lasting consequences upon their families.

Bent’s first chance for revenge occurs during the Battle of Churubusco in August 1847, when he orders the pair to lead their platoons to impossible position that could leave them slaughtered. Bent’s orders also results in Orry getting seriously wounded in the leg. While George waits for Orry to recover right after the war’s official ending in February 1848, he meets and falls in love with his future wife – Constance Flynn, the daughter of Irish-born Army officer, Major Patrick Flynn. It does not take long for George to propose marriage to her. He also receives word of his father’s death and resigns his Army commission to help his family operate Hazard Iron. Due to his wound, Orry also leaves the Army and returns to South Carolina and Mont Royal, a despondent man with a permanently lame leg.

As usual, Episode Two features some changes from John Jakes’ 1982 novel. One, George met Constance in Texas, before his and Orry’s arrival in Mexico. And Constance’s father was an attorney, not a military doctor. The miniseries also dismissed George and Orry’s failed efforts to expose Bent as a brutal military leader before the Battle of Churubusco. Unlike the miniseries, Orry lost one of his arms in the novel. And when Orry returned to Mont Royal in the miniseries, his Cousin Charles had yet to make an appearance.

Like Episode OneEpisode Two was a first-rate chapter in the miniseries saga with a few flaws that more or less irritated me. However, I was very impressed at how director Richard T. Heffron and cinematographer Stevan Larner handled some of the episode’s major scenes – especially the ones that featured the Mains’ barbecue in honor of both Orry and George, the latter’s first meeting with future wife Constance Flynn at an Army ball in Mexico City, and especially the Battle of Churubusco. Three major crowd scenes in one 97-minutes episode. Very impressive. I especially enjoyed how he used the camera to take in all of the details of the Mains’ barbecue at Mont Royal, using Madeline and Justin LaMotte’s arrival to begin the scene. First of all, I would like to touch upon the episode’s costumes. Vicki Sánchez’s work continued to impress me – especially in two of my favorite costumes worn by both Wendy Kilbourne and Lesley-Anne Down:

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More importantly, Episode Two featured some first-rate dramatic scene. Two of them – ironically – featured slaves being punished. One of the Mains’ slaves, Priam, was punished for drunken behavior at the family’s barbecue in one particular scene. Heffron and Larner utilized unusual camera angles and lighting to emphasize the horror of Priam being branded on the cheek by overseer Salem Jones. Along with the above, the scene’s horror became even more effective, thanks to David Harris (Priam) and Tony Frank’s (Salem Jones) performances. The second scene featured Justin LaMotte’s whipping of a slave to discover if any of his slaves had information on Priam’s escape from Mont Royal. There were no unusual camera angles or lighting used in this scene, just casual brutality, thanks to Heffron’s direction and David Carradine’s performance. And a close look at Carradine’s costume would reveal flecks of blood on his white shirt.

This episode also featured other first-rate dramatic scenes. One of those scenes featured excellent performances by James Read and Patrick Swayze in an argument between George and Orry following Priam’s punishment. The irony of this argument is that Orry’s reaction to George’s criticism of slavery was a great deal more volatile than George’s reaction to his criticism of Northern wage slavery in Episode One. The LaMottes had their own memorable fight, following Madeline’s comments about slavery and secession at the Mains’ barbecue, thanks to Carradine and Lesley-Anne Down’s performances. Philip Casnoff’s memorably creepy performance as Elkhannah Bent added a great deal of depth to at least two scenes. One of them featured Bent’s personal declaration of war to both George and Orry after they had succeeded to get him kicked out of West Point. The second scene featured Bent seeking help from his illegitimate father – a Northern congressman – to get him a commission in the Army after being forced to leave the Academy. Gene Kelly gave a brief, yet excellent performance as Bent’s father and his obvious reluctance to view Bent as his son, along with Casnoff’s performance, produced a rare moment in which I actually felt a glimmer of sympathy for Bent.

There were other performances that impressed me. Mitchell Ryan was excellent as the no-nonsense Tillet Main who angrily defended his decision to punish Priam to Orry. Olivia Cole was allowed to display more of her excellent acting skills in an intense scene in which Maum Sally stops Madeline from interrupting LaMotte’s whipping of a slave. Robert Mitchum gave a charming performance as the observant and slightly roguish Army doctor, Major Patrick Flynn. Andy Stahl continued his first-rate performance as Ned Fisk in his second and last appearance in the 1985 miniseries. Episode Two also featured the introduction of Wendy Kilbourne as George Hazard’s love and future wife, Constance Flynn. Utilizing an Irish accent must have been difficult for her . . . at first. Her accent seemed a bit exaggerated in her first scene in which Constance meets George for the first time at the ball in Mexico City. But Kilbourne quickly adapted to the accent and came out smelling like a rose. More importantly, she infused both a charm and a sardonic wit that has made Constance one of my favorite characters in the saga.

I did have a major problem with Episode Two. Do not get me wrong. I have always thought Patrick Swayze and Lesley-Anne Down had a good, solid screen chemistry. But why oh why did the screenwriters insist upon forcing them to spew so much drippy dialogue? My God! How I grew to hate it! Viewers received a first hint of this at the end of Episode One. InEpisode Two, it simply got worse. Why? The dialogue became hammier and the episode featured two wince-inducing scenes between Orry and Madeline. Let me correct myself. Make that three. One featured a conversation between the two at the barbecue, the second at Salvation Chapel on the day after the barbecue, and the third at the end of the episode, following Orry’s permanent return to Mont Royal and Priam’s escape.

As it turned out, I had another problem . . . and it featured a scene between Madeline and Priam. After escaping from Mont Royal, the latter made his way to the slave quarters at Resolute, the LaMotte plantation. One of LaMotte’s house slaves summoned Madeline to her cabin, where the plantation mistress tried to convince Priam to return to Mont Royal before agreeing to assist him in his escape. This entire scene featured Priam in tears, while Madeline talked to him. And for the likes of me, I do not understand why he was crying? Why was Priam crying? Was this a reaction to Madeline’s initial attempt to convince him to return to Mont Royal? Or were his tears a sentimental reaction to the lose of those years before Salem Jones’ arrival at Mont Royal? Judging from his dialogue, his only reason for leaving the Mains’ plantation seemed to be their brutal overseer. What the hell? What happened to the literary Priam who not only hated Salem Jones, but also angrily resented the Main family for keeping him in bondage. It seemed as if Priam had lost his balls in his transition from John Jakes’ novel to the television screen. Why was it so important for the screenwriters to make Priam less aggressive in his attitude toward the Mains? How gutless.

Despite these flaws, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” seemed to march steadily on in this second episode with great dramatic moments and first-rate performances. With George at Mont Royal to get Orry to stand as his best man at his upcoming wedding to Constance, and Priam as a fugitive, Heffron and the screenwriters have given viewers sufficient incentives to look forward to the next episode.

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – Episode One “1842-1844” Commentary

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“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – EPISODE ONE “1842-1844” Commentary

The year nineteen eighty-two saw the publication of “North and South”, the first novel of John Jakes’ trilogy about the United States before, during and after the U.S. Civil War. This first novel, set during the United States’ Antebellum Era, was adapted into a six-part miniseries in 1985. 

This first miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I”, told the story of two families during the years before the Civil War. The Hazards are a wealthy family that owns a successful iron foundry in Lehigh Station, Pennsylvania – not far from Philadelphia. Just as wealthy are the Mains, a family from the low country of South Carolina that owns a cotton plantation (a rice plantation in the novel) called Mont Royal. George Hazard and Orry Main first meet in New York City in the summer of 1842, as both make their way to commence upon their four years as cadets at West Point, the U.S. Army Military Academy. The two become fast friends, despite regional differences, as they endure trials and tribulations during their four years at the Point and the violence of the Mexican-American War. Due to the perseverance of their friendship, George and Orry’s families also form bonds, leading to the friendship of another Hazard and Main at West Point in the 1850s and marriage between two members of the families. By the end of miniseries, George and Orry’s friendship, along with the bonds formed between their families are tested by the growing conflict between Northerners and Southerners and the outbreak of the Civil War.

Episode One of “NORTH AND SOUTH” is set between 1842 and 1844. It is more or less an introduction of the two main characters, their families and the entire saga. Although it is not my favorite episode of the miniseries, I must admit that director Richard T. Heffron, along with the series’ staff of screenwriters (that includes John Jakes), did a solid job in setting up the miniseries. I noticed that some significant differences were made from Jakes’ novel. One, the writers excluded the novel’s prologue altogether, which had introduced the Hazards and Mains’ family founders in the 1680s. Unlike the novel, the miniseries began with Orry Main’s departure from Mont Royal, the family estate; and his first meeting with his future love, New Orleans-born Madeline Fabray. Actually, what the writers did was switch the Hazard family’s introduction with the Mains, Madeline Fabray and Justin La Motte (neighbor of the Mains). Whereas Orry first met all of the Hazards in 1842 New York City in the novel, he did not meet them until his and George Hazard’s three-month furlough in 1844 in the miniseries. The character of Elkhannah Bent underwent a physical transformation. He went from an overweight and unattractive Ohio-born man in the novel to a handsome Georgia-born young man in the miniseries. But the character remained insane and maintained his hatred of both George and Orry. As it turned out, the television Bent was a combination of the literary Bent and a character from the second novel, “Love and War” called Lamar Powell. The miniseries also allowed viewers to experience the venal Justin La Motte’s courtship of Madeline during the two years between her first meeting with Orry and his 1844 furlough. Because Orry and Madeline met two years earlier than they did in the novel, the pair exchanged letters until their correspondence was secretly interrupted by Madeline’s father, Nicholas Fabray. He was determined that Madeline marry La Motte.

I also noticed that Orry’s attitude toward slavery seemed to be less conservative than it was in the novel. I suspect that the writers decided to delete the character of Cooper Main, Orry’s older brother, while incorporating some of his moderate political views into Orry. They had no problems with transferring all four Hazard siblings – George, Stanley, Virgilia and Billy – from the novel to the miniseries. Yet, they failed to do the same with the Main siblings. Only Orry, Ashton, Brett and Charles made it from the novel to the miniseries. Cooper remained missing until the third miniseries, “HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH – BOOK III”. I found this strange. Why did the screenwriters feel it was necessary to delete Cooper’s character from the miniseries?

There were some other differences that did not sit right with me. One, the episode featured George and Orry’s journey from New York City to West Point via the railroad. There was no railroad service between New York City and the West Point Academy in the 1840s. In fact, there is still no rail service between the two locations. The miniseries also featured a swordfight between the two friends’ cadet drillmaster, the insane Elkhannah Bent and Orry – with the latter defeating the older cadet. Both the novel and the miniseries made it clear that Orry struggled with his studies. Because of this, Jakes made it clear in his novel that Orry was never able to become an accomplished swordsman. Yet, Orry defeated Bent in the miniseries because he was a member of the Southern planter class. The screenwriters utilized a cliche to make Orry an accomplished swordsman. And to this day, I am still puzzled at Orry’s lack of reaction to his eight to ten year-old sister Ashton’s knowledge of overseer Salem Jones’ sexual tryst with house slave Semiramis. Surely, he would be upset that his young sister would not only know but openly discuss such a topic.

But I was impressed by how the episode revealed the political conflicts that permeated the country during the early to mid 1840s. The miniseries mentioned such topics as the country’s conflict with Mexico over Texas, Western expansion and its impact on the institution of slavery. I noticed that the Hazard family – George included – did not seem particularly concerned over the idea of Texas joining the Union as a slave state. Even more interesting was the family’s contemptuous dismissal of Virgilia Hazard’s pro-abolition stance. In one scene featuring Orry’s dinner with the Hazard family at their Leigh Station home, the male members of the family tend to ignore Virgilia’s comments altogether, until she was finally forced to raise her voice. The Hazard family’s reaction to Virgilia’s abolitionist stance seemed a true reflection of most Northerners’ cool attitude toward the abolition of slavery. Another scene that took me by surprise featured a brief mention of Oberlin College in Ohio by Elkhannah Bent. During the 1830s, it became the first college institution to integrate blacks and women into its student body. Being a bigot, Bent naturally mentioned the college with a great deal of contempt.

Anyone familiar with Jakes’ literary trilogy would probably realize that the saga’s main topic centered around American slavery and its impact upon the country’s political and social scene between the 1840s and 1860s. There were four scenes that perfectly emphasized not only the horrors of slavery, but also the growing conflict between North and South. One scene in the episode’s second half featured Orry’s return to Mont Royal during his furlough. In this scene, he comes across the plantation’s new overseer, Salem Jones, whipping a slave named Priam. Priam happened to be the older brother of Semiramis, the house slave whom Jones has coerced to be his slave mistress. Not only did the sight of the whip being cracked across actor David Harris’ back filled me revulsion, but also Jones’ reason for authorizing the whipping in the first place – to guarantee Priam’s obedience. However, a scene featuring Madeline Fabray breakfasting with Justin La Motte during a visit to the latter’s plantation, Resolute; proved to be even equally effective. In the scene, a house slave named Nancy spills coffee on Madeline’s sleeve. While the latter disappears into the office to change clothes, a tense moment ensues when La Motte punishes Nancy with a brutal slap and a warning.

The conflict between North and South first reared its ugly head in a confrontation between Orry and a Ohio-born cadet named Ned Fisk, who resented the financial competition that his father faced from Southern planters who used slave labor. But I thought there were two scenes that I believe more effectively conveyed the conflict between the two regions. One featured a scene in which Orry toured the grounds of Hazard Irons during his visit to Lehigh Station and commented rather negatively on the white immigrant labor used by the Hazard family at their foundry. His little comment nearly sparked the first argument between the two friends. But Virgilia’s confrontation with Orry during a Hazard family dinner scene not only emphasized the Hazards’ disregard toward the abolitionist movement, but also the conflict between abolition and the country’s pro-slavery faction . . . especially in regard to American politics in the 1840s.

Production wise, Episode One looked gorgeous. Archie J. Bacon did an excellent job in bringing Antebellum America to the screen – both North and South. The miniseries was shot mainly in South Carolina and Mississippi and cinematographer Stevan Larner did justice to the locations, providing scenes with sharp color and elegance. I was especially impressed by the tracking shot that not only kick-started the miniseries, but also gave viewers a sweeping view of the operations at Mont Royal. Vicki Sánchez’s costumes were beautiful to look at. I was especially impressed by the following dress worn by Lesley-Anne Down in one scene:

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The cast provided solid performances in the miniseries. Mind you, the performances by some of extras struck me as rather wooden and amateurish. But the main cast seemed to know what they were doing. Both James Read and Patrick Swayze formed a perfect screen team as the two best friends – George Hazard and Orry Main. I enjoyed Lesley-Anne Down’s portrayal of the New Orleans-born Madeline Fabray. Although she had decent chemistry with Swayze, I was never a fan of the Orry-Madeline romance. It always struck me as a bit too ideal or Harlequin Romance for my tastes. David Carradine was both smooth and menacing as neighboring planter, Justin La Motte. Andrew Stahl nicely balanced both Ned Fisk’s resentment toward the Southern planter class and wariness toward Elkhannah Bent. Olivia Cole provided solid support as the Fabrays’ free housekeeper, Maum Sally. And Lee Bergere gave a subtle performance as Madeline’s manipulative, but well meaning father, Nicholas Fabray. But the two performances that really made me sit up and notice were Philip Casnoff’s intense portrayal of the borderline insane Elkhannah Bent and Kirstie Alley’s equally intense performance as the dedicated abolitionist Virgilia Hazard.

So far, “NORTH AND SOUTH” seemed to be off to a good start. Mind you, there were a few setbacks in regard to historical accuracy and characterization. With the episode ending with Orry and Madeline’s declaration of love for one another, along with her marriage to Justin La Motte, viewers were bound to be drawn to the next episode.

The Major Problems of “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985)

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The Major Problems of “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985)

For many fans of the television adaptations of John Jakes’ NORTH AND SOUTH trilogy, the first miniseries, a 1985 television adaptation of the 1982 novel, is considered the best. If I must be honest, I share that opinion. However . . .“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” is not perfect. Below are some of the reasons why: 

*Journey to West Point – After their initial meeting during a brawl with workers at a New York City stage station, future West Point cadets George Hazard and Orry Main traveled to the U.S. Military Academy via the railroad. This mode of transportation for this particular route was impossible. There was no rail service between New York City and the West Point Academy in 1842. Anyone traveling to the Military Academy would have to do so by a river steamer up the Hudson River. In fact, no rail service between New York City and West Point exists today.

*Orry Main’s Swordsmanship – Cadets Orry Main and Elkhannah Bent engaged in a duel, during the latter’s swordsmanship class for the platoon under his command at West Point. Needless to say, Cadet Main emerged the victor. As a poor scholar, Orry lacked the brains to be a good swordsman. And two, Bent was at the beginning of his second year as a West Point cadet. He was not an instructor. Why was he holding lessons in swordsmanship to the plebes in his platoon?

*Ashton Main’s Knowledge of Salem Jones’ Sex Life – Orry returned to Mont Royal, his family’s South Carolina rice plantation during the summer of 1844 for a three month furlough. Upon his arrival, he learned about overseer Salem Jones’ sexual exploitation of a young female house slave named Semiramis from his eight-to-ten year-old sister, Ashton. Instead of being appalled by his young sister’s knowledge of Jones’ sex life, Orry casually acknowledged the information. This scene made no sense, whatsoever. No adult male of Orry’s class would regard his 8-to-10 year-old sister’s knowledge of the overseer’s sex life without being horrified. Never. Whoever wrote this scene seemed to have forgotten that this miniseries was set during the mid-19th century.

*Timeline in Episode Three – Part of the timeline featured in Episode Three is in error. The episode began during the late winter/early spring of 1848. In fact, most of the events in the episode’s first half – George’s second visit to Mont Royal, Priam’s escape, George’s wedding to Constance Flynn, the Philadelphia abolitionist meeting, the consummation of Orry’s affair with Madeline LaMotte and the accident at Hazard Iron – all took place in 1848.

The miniseries then jumped five years later, marking the death of Orry’s father, Tillet Main, in 1853. Eighteen fifty-three? The timeline should have jumped at least three-to-four years to the early months of 1852. Episode Four marked 1856 as the year Billy Hazard and Charles Main graduated from West Point. There were no three-year programs at the Military Academy. And contrary to George and Orry’s conversation about their younger relatives’ arrival at West Point, cadets were not in the habit of beginning their four years in the fall. They usually arrive at the Point in early June.

*Summer Visit to Mont Royal – According to the miniseries, newly commissioned Army officer George Hazard paid a visit to Mont Royal in 1846, before he and Orry set out for Texas and Mexico. Considering that the visit probably took place in September – the end of their three-month furlough after graduation – I have no problem with this.

However, the entire Hazard family visited Mont Royal during the summer of 1854 – during Billy and Charles’ three-month furlough between their second and third years at West Point. Wealthy 18th and 19th century low country South Carolinians were not in the habit of hanging around their low country plantations during the summer heat and pestilence. During this time of the year, the Mains would probably be at a Northern resort, in Charleston (by the sea) or at the Summerton resort in South Carolina’s upcountry.

*Grady’s Reading Ability – During the Hazards’ 1854 visit to Mont Royal, abolitionist Virgilia Hazard met Grady, the slave of Ashton Main’s fiance, James Huntoon. The pair eventually became lovers and began making plans for Grady’s escape to the North. During their meeting in the Mains’ cotton dock, Grady informed Virgilia that he had taught himself to read . . . and therefore, would be able to read her instructions. Taught himself to read? I could only scratch my head at that remark. It would be a neat trick for anyone to be able to teach him/herself to read.

*West Point Graduation – I noticed a few curious mistakes regarding Billy Hazard and Charles Main’s graduation from West Point in June 1856. A graduation ball was held in honor of the graduates, following their final parade. The miniseries did not imply where. This actually did not happen in the novel or real life during the 19th century. During this century, West Points graduates usually packed their belongings after the final parade, and traveled down the Hudson River to New York City. Upon their arrival in the city, they usually attend a graduation luncheon or supper in their new Army uniforms. And then they went home for a three-month furlough before reporting for duty. Sorry, no graduation ball.

*Madeline LaMotte’s Drugged Period – During the late summer of 1856, Ashton Main informed neighbor Madeline LaMotte that she was pregnant with the child of a cadet she met during Billy and Charles’ graduation. Madeline agreed to help her get a secret abortion. However, Madeline lied about her whereabouts to her venal husband, who eventually disclosed her lie. To deal with his problematic wife, Justin LaMotte had Madeline locked in her bedroom and slightly starved. He called their family physician, Dr. Lorenzo Sapp, who suggested that he keep her drugged with laudanum, until she left him for good in February 1861. But once again, the miniseries proved its inability to maintain a consistent timeline and claimed in the latter half of Episode Five and in Episode Six that Justin had kept Madeline drugged for months. Actually, he kept her drugged for nearly four-and-a-half years.

I realized that “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” was not perfect. But looking over the above mistakes, I had no idea that its flaws were that extensive. Despite its flaws, it is still the best of the three miniseries in the trilogy. And it is still one of my favorite television miniseries of all time.

List of Favorite Movies and Television Miniseries About Slavery

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With the recent releases of Steven Spielberg’s new movie, “LINCOLN” and Quentin Tarrantino’s latest film, “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, I found myself thinking about movies I have seen about slavery – especially slavery practiced in the United States. Below is a list of my favorite movies on the subject in chronological order: 

 

LIST OF FAVORITE MOVIES AND TELEVISION MINISERIES ABOUT SLAVERY

13-Skin Game

“Skin Game” (1971) – James Garner and Lou Gossett Jr. co-starred in this unusual comedy about two antebellum drifter who pull the “skin game” – a con that involves one of them selling the other as a slave for money before the pair can escape and pull the same con in another town. Paul Bogart directed.

 

9-Mandingo

“Mandingo” (1975) – Reviled by many critics as melodramatic sleaze, this 1975 adaptation of Kyle Onstott’s 1957 novel revealed one of the most uncompromising peeks into slave breeding in the American South, two decades before the Civil War. Directed by Richard Fleischer, the movie starred James Mason, Perry King, Brenda Sykes, Susan George and Ken Norton.

 

2-Roots

“Roots” (1977) – David Wolper produced this television miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley’s 1976 about his mother’s family history as American slaves during a century long period between the mid-18th century and the end of the Civil War. LeVar Burton, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, Georg Sanford Brown and Lou Gossett Jr. starred.

 

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“A Woman Called Moses” (1978) – Cicely Tyson starred in this two-part miniseries about the life and career of Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist, who was the most successful conductor of the Underground Railroad during the last decade before the Civil War. Based on Marcy Heidish’s book, the miniseries was directed by Paul Wendkos.

 

3-Half Slave Half Free Solomon Northup Odyssey

“Half-Slave, Half-Free: Solomon Northup’s Odyssey” (1984) – Avery Brooks starred in this television adaptation of free born Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography about his twelve years as a slave in antebellum Louisiana. Gordon Parks directed.

 

4-North and South

“North and South” (1985) – David Wolper produced this television adaptation of John Jakes’ 1982 novel about the experiences of two American families and the growing discord over slavery during the twenty years before the American Civil War. Patrick Swayze and James Read starred.

 

6-Race to Freedom - The Underground Railroad

“Race to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad” (1994) – Actor Tim Reid produced this television movie about four North Carolina slaves’ escape to Canada, following the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Janet Bailey and Courtney B. Vance starred.

 

10-The Journey of August King

“The Journey of August King” (1996) – Jason Patric and Thandie Newton starred in this adaptation of John Ehle’s 1971 novel about an early 19th century North Carolina farmer who finds himself helping a female slave escape from her master and slave catchers. John Duigan directed.

 

8-A Respectable Trade

“A Respectable Trade” (1998) – Emma Fielding, Ariyon Bakare and Warren Clarke starred in this television adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s 1992 novel about the forbidden love affair between an African born slave and the wife of his English master in 18th century Bristol. Suri Krishnamma directed.

 

11-Mansfield Park 1999

“Mansfield Park” (1999) – Slavery is heavily emphasized in Patricia Rozema’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel about a young English woman’s stay with her rich relatives during the first decade of the 19th century. Frances O’Connor and Jonny Lee Miller starred.

 

7-Human Trafficking

“Human Trafficking” (2005) – Mira Sorvino starred in this miniseries about the experiences of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent investigating the modern day sex slave trafficking business. Donald Sutherland and Robert Caryle co-starred.

 

5-Amazing Grace

“Amazing Grace” (2007) – Michael Apted directed this account of William Wilberforce’s campaign against the slave trade throughout the British Empire in Parliament. Ioan Gruffudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, Romola Garai Rufus Sewell and Albert Finney starred.

 

12-Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (2012) – History and the supernatural merged in this interesting adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel about the 16th president’s activities as a vampire hunter. Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie and Mary Elizabeth Winstead starred.

 

1-Lincoln

“Lincoln” (2012) – Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed the 16th president in Steven Spielberg’s fascinating account of Lincoln’s efforts to end U.S. slavery, by having Congress pass the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. Sally Field, David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones co-starred.

 

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“Django Unchained” (2012) – Quentin Tarantino directed this take on Spaghetti Westerns about a slave-turned-bounty hunter and his mentor, who sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo Di Caprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson starred.