“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – Episode Six “March-April 1865” Commentary

northandsouthbook2 6a

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – EPISODE SIX “March-April 1865” Commentary

I hate to say this, but whenever I watch “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”, I usually heave a sigh of relief after the last episode fades away. I have never done this with the other two miniseries – “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” and “HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III”. But with the 1986 production, I usually do. There is something about watching this particular production usually ends up as hard work for me.

Episode Six of “BOOK II” began at least a month after Episode Five ended. This episode began with Orry Main hiring a former Pinkerton detective to find his missing wife, Madeline Fabray LaMotte Main. The latter continues her efforts to feed Charleston’s poor by appealing to Union general William Tecumseh Sherman. With nothing else to do, Orry has no choice but to help the Confederacy defend Richmond, Virginia; which is under siege from the Army of the Potomoc under Ulysses S. Grant. The episode eventually leads into the Battle of Fort Stedman, in which Orry, his cousin Charles, George and Billy Hazard all participate. The Union victory at Fort Stedman eventually lead to another military victory for the Army of Potomoc and Confederate General Robert E. Lee‘s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House. Once the episode puts these series of historical events behind, Episode Six refocuses on the main characters’ personal lives.

Episode Six closes more story arcs that began in Episode One than the previous episode did. The consequences of Charles Main and Augusta Barclay concludes in one stage and begins in another that will continue in 1994’s “HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III”. The war’s end leads to a final romantic reunion for Billy and Brett Hazard. In fact, the Charles/Augusta and Billy/Brett relationships were not the only ones that came to fruition in this episode. Episode Sixalso resolved the romance between Semiramis and Ezra, with the former finally acknowledging her love for the latter. And yes, Orry finally finds Madeline and their son with the help of George and Madeline’s attorney, Miles Colbert. With war, there is always the chance for tragedy. While tragedy of one kind marked John Jakes’ 1984 novel, another kind of tragedy ends Virgilia Hazard’s relationship with Congressman Sam Greene and her character arc, which began in “BOOK I”. Tragedy also occurred during the attack upon Mont Royal near the end of the episode. Irony also seemed to be hallmark of this attack, for it was led by an alliance between former Mont Royal slave Cuffey and former overseer Salem Jones. I found it ironic that a black man and a white man, former enemies due to their positions as slave and overseer, should form an alliance against the very family that had controlled their lives in one form or another. Non-elites of two different races uniting against the elite. Talk about a rich man’s worst nightmare.

There was a good deal about Episode Six for me to praise. One of the miniseries’ strengths has always been its battle scenes. And this particular episode featured an exciting interpretation of the Battle at Fort Stedman. As I had earlier noted, this episode also featured a poignant recreation of the Surrender at Appomattox. There were some dramatic scenes that I found very satisfying. One of them included George and Orry’s emotional reunion following the Appomattox surrender and Charles’ return to Barclay’s Farm. A part of me realizes this might be wrong, but I felt a great sense of satisfaction in the way Virgilia dealt with her situation with Congressman Sam Greene. However, her act landed her in serious legal trouble and a very tearful reconciliation with her brother George. Last, but not least was Cuffey and Salem Jones’ action-packed assault on Mont Royal.

I have to give credit to several people for the manner in which both the action and dramatic sequences in this episode. One of them is Kevin Connor, who I must admit did a pretty solid job in helming this six-part, 540-minutes juggernaut for television from a script filled with plot holes. I also have to comment upon the work of cinematographer Jacques R. Marquette, whose excellent photography of the miniseries added a great deal of pathos to a story about one of the United States’ most traumatic periods in its history. I was especially impressed by how he handled the Fort Stedman sequence. Bill Conti’s score contributed a great deal to the production’s narrative. And I was also impressed by the work of the six men who served as the miniseries’ film editing team, especially for the Fort Stedman and Mont Royal attack sequences. And as usual, Robert Fletcher knocked it out of the ballpark with his costume designs . . . especially for the outfits shown in the images below:

northandsouthbook2 6b northandsouthbook2 6c

Judging from Fletcher’s filmography, I suspect that “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” was his best work on screen – movies or television.

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” also featured some fine performances. Aside from one particular scene that I found particularly hammy, I was satisfied with the performances featured in this episode. For me, the best performances came from Patrick Swayze, Lloyd Bridges, Parker Stevenson, Forest Whitaker, Tony Frank, David Ogden Stiers, Jean Simmons, Inga Swanson, John Nixon. I was especially impressed by James Read and Kirstie Alley’s performances in the scene that featured George and Virgilia’s emotional reconciliation and discovery of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. And the poignancy in the Appomattox surrender sequence greatly benefited from Anthony Zerbe and William Schallert’s portrayal of Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. On a minor note, if you look carefully during the miniseries’ last half hour, you might spot future star Bryan Cranston as a Union officer whom George questions about Orry whereabouts, following the Fort Stedman battle.

Although there seemed to be a good about Episode Six that strikes me as praiseworthy . . . and there is, I found a good deal that I found problematic. Which strikes me as a pity, for the emotional levity featured in this episode could have made Episode Six my favorite in the entire miniseries. Alas . . . I have too much to complain about. Three of my problems centered around the Charles Main character. First of all, two months after he last saw Augusta Barclay in Episode Five, Charles discovered that he was the father of an infant boy. Apparently Augusta had died while giving birth to their son. Unfortunately . . . Augusta DID NOT look pregnant during her last meeting with Charles. And considering that they had made love in the previous episode, her pregnancy should not have come as a surprise to him. To make matters worse, young Augustus Charles Main looked as if he had been conceived nearly two years ago. Honestly. The kid looked at least one year old. And Charles and Augusta had started their affair eleven months before the end of the war. Unlike Jakes’ novel, Charles found his son being cared for by Augusta’s South Carolina relatives in Charleston. Really? Was that necessary? I found it ridiculously convee-ee-ee-ient that Augusta had Charleston relatives, who managed to be in Virginia at the time she gave birth to her son. My second problem with Charles is the fact that it took him less than a week to travel from Spotsylvania County, Virginia to Charleston, South Carolina. Less than a week? On horseback? Charles’ journey should have taken him longer. This seemed like an extreme reversal of Brett and Semiramis’ ludicrous four-month journey from Washington D.C. to Mont Royal.

Quite frankly, I felt a bit put out that the screenwriters (which include John Jakes) dumped a tragic ending to Virgilia Hazard’s story arc. Unlike the miniseries, Virgilia survived her affair with Congressman Greene and ended up marrying another black man – the same man who had befriend George, Constance and Brett in the novel. Apparently, Wolper Productions felt that since Virgilia’s five-year marriage had ended in tragedy, it seemed proper to give her a tragic ending, as well. Or perhaps many of the trilogy’s fans had found Virgilia’s radical politics and marriage to Grady so off-putting that David Wolper and the screenwriters had decided to appease them by giving her a tragic ending. Regardless their reason, I found Virgilia’s tragic ending very annoying and clichéd. As much as Patrick Swayze’s portrayal of Orry Main had impressed me in this episode, there is one scene in which his acting skills failed to impress. I hate to say this, but I cannot hold it back. I refer to the scene in which Orry finds the body of his mother Clarissa Main, following the attack upon Mont Royal and expresses his grief. Can I say . . . OVER-THE-TOP? Seriously. I found it to be one of the hammiest moments in the entire television trilogy.

But the episode’s real problems were made obvious during the Fort Stedman battle sequence. Granted, I was impressed by the visual style of this segment. But I noticed the screenwriters went out of their way to ensure that the major four military characters – George, Billy, Orry and Charles – all participated in this battle. In ensuring this, the screenwriters committed a great deal of inconsistencies and bloopers. Orry led a group of infantry troops into battle for the first time, since the Battle of Churubusco, nearly eighteen years earlier. Personally, I never saw the need for him to be put into the field. The Army of Northern Virginia still had enough commanders to lead men into battle. One of the officers under his command proved to be Charles. Charles? Charles, who spent the entire war as a cavalry officer and scout under Wade Hampton III? I am aware that Charles had led infantry troops during the Battle Antietam, during Episode Three. And I had pointed that this was a major blooper. Yet, the screenwriters repeated this same blooper by allowing him to lead infantry troops again during the Battle at Fort Stedman . . . this time, under Orry’s command. Also leading infantry troops for the Union was George Hazard. Now, I am baffled. George had command of Artillery troops during the Battle of Gettysburg in Episode Three and when he was captured during Episode Four. Could someone explain why the screenwriters had decided to have him lead Infantry troops in this episode? Among the troops under George’s command proved to be his brother Billy, who continued to serve with the Sharpshooters. It was bad enough that the writers had Charles serving under Orry during this battle. But they had Billy serving under George, as well? There is more, folks. Not only did Billy continued to serve with the Sharpshooters, he also seemed to be in command of them. For, I saw no other officers during this scene. I am aware that Hiram Burdan was no longer in command of this regiment by the end of the war. But what happened to the other officers in the regiment? What happened to Rudy Bodford and Stephen Kent? They seemed to have disappeared. And how did Billy end up in this position, considering that he had spent nearly 10 months AWOL between the summer of 1863 and the spring of 1864? What the hell, guys? Come on!

Do not get me wrong. There is still plenty to admire about “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”. Like its predecessor,“NORTH AND SOUTH”; it has its share of good acting, exciting sequences, drama, superb production values, and probably the best costume design in the entire trilogy, thanks to Robert Fletcher’s work. Unfortunately, the 1986 miniseries has its share of major flaws that included clunky dialogue and probably some of the worst writing in the entire trilogy. And when I say the entire trilogy, I am including the much reviled “NORTH AND SOUTH III: HEAVEN AND HELL”. “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” might be my least favorite chapter in the television trilogy, thanks to a great deal of plot holes and historical inaccuracies . . . I still managed to enjoyed it anyway.

Advertisements

NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – Episode Five “December 1864 – February 1865”

northandsouth2 - 5a

 

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – EPISODE FIVE “December 1864 – February 1865” Commentary

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” finally reached its home stretch in Episode Five, the penultimate episode. Well . . . almost. Beginning several weeks after the end of Episode Four, Episode Five continued the miniseries’ portrayal of the Civil War’s last year for the Hazards and the Mains. It also put three or four subplots to rest.

Episode Five opened with George Hazard still imprisoned inside Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. The episode also continued with Madeline Main’s efforts to feed Charleston’s poor and war refugees, Charles Main and Augusta Barclay’s wartime romance, and the survival of Mont Royal’s remaining inhabitants. Episode Five also closed several subplots that included Stanley and Isobel Hazard’s war profiteering, Elkhannah Bent and Ashton Main Huntoon’s plot against Jefferson Davis’ administration, and Madeline’s relationship with former officer Rafe Beaudine.

This episode featured some excellent dramatic moments. Lewis Smith certainly shined in his portrayal of Charles Main, who had hardened considerably after three-and-a-half years of war. This was especially apparent in scenes that included Charles’ reluctance to help his cousin Orry Main rescue George Hazard from Libby Prison, his cold-blooded killing of a Union prisoner, his attempt prevent fellow scout Jim Pickles from deserting and his emotionally distant attitude toward lady love Augusta Barclay and her manservant, Washington. Another well acted scene featured Brett Main Hazard and Semiramis’ encounter with former Mont Royal overseer, Salem Jones. Watching Erica Gimpel point a shotgun at Tony Frank, considering their characters’ past history, brought a smile to my face. I also enjoyed the poignant scene between Brett and her mother, Clarissa Main, while the latter painfully reminisced about the past; thanks to Genie Francis and Jean Simmons’ performances. And both James Read and Jonathan Frakes knocked it out of the ballpark in the scene that featured George’s confrontation with Stanley and Isobel over their war profiteering. They were supported by fine performances from Wendy Kilbourne and Mary Crosby.

But another truly superb performance came from Terri Garber, who got a chance to portray Ashton Huntooon’s increasing doubts over Elkhannah Bent’s scheme against Davis. This was especially apparent in one scene in which Ashton silently expressed shame over her willingness to prostitute herself to a potential contributor for Bent’s plot. She received fine support from Jim Metzler as her husband James Huntoon and Patrick Swayze as Orry Main. But I felt that Philip Casnoff’s Bent nearly became slightly hammy by the scene’s end. Even Lesley Anne Down and Lee Horsley managed to shine as Madeline and the infatuated Rafe Beaudine. But I must admit that I found one of their later scenes slightly melodramatic.

Yet, despite these dramatic gems, I was not particularly impressed by the writing featured in Episode Five. I had a problem with several subplots. One, I had a problem with the subplot involving Stanley and Isobel’s profiteering. It made me wish the screenwriters had adhered to author John Jakes’ original portrayal of the couple in his 1984 novel, “Love and War”. I felt this subplot had ended with a whimper. It was bad enough that George had killed Stanley and Isobel’s partner in a bar fight. But aside from the dead partner, the only way the couple could face conviction was to confess. And I found it implausible that a remorseful Stanley would still be willing to do that after receiving an earful of angry insults from George. Very weak.

Episode Five also allowed Madeline and Bent’s subplots to interact for the purpose of killing off Rafe Beaudine. Frankly, I found the idea of Bent traveling from Richmond to Charleston for more funds . . . only to be told to seek hard cash from“the Angel of Charleston” – namely Madeline. The latter recruited a retired stage actress portrayed by Linda Evans to impersonate her and discover Bent’s plans. And what was Madeline’s next act? She left her boarding house (in the middle of the night) to warn . . . who? The script never made it clear about whom Madeline had intended to warn. Why? Because her night time task was interrupted by Bent, who had recognized the stage actress. And before Bent could lay eyes upon Madeline, Rafe comes to her rescue. What can I say? Contrived.

I also found Bent’s scheme to get rid of Jefferson Davis and assume political and military control of the Confederacy rather ludicrous. Audiences never really saw him recruit any real political support for his scheme . . . just money from various wealthy Southerners. The screenplay never allowed Bent to make any effort to recruit military support for the weapons he had purchased. In the end, I found the entire subplot lame and a waste of my time.

And finally, we come to the efforts of “Madeline the Merciful” to find food for Charleston’s poor. Personally, I found this subplot ludicrous. Madeline did not bother to recruit other women from Charleston’s elite to help her. And I suspect some of them would have been willing to help. I also found this subplot extremely patronizing. Again, it seemed to embrace the“savior complex” trope to the extreme. The subplot seemed to infantilize all social groups that were not part of the city’s white elite or middle-class – namely fugitive slaves, working-class whites and all free blacks. I found this last category surprising, considering that the screenwriters failed to acknowledge that not all free blacks were poor. In the end, this entire subplot struck me as a white elitist fantasy that Julian Fellowes would embrace.

The production values featured in the episode struck me as top-notch. Both director Kevin O’Connor and the film editing team did excellent work for the actions scenes in Episode Five. I found myself impressed by the scenes that featured George’s escape from Libby Prison, his bar fight with Stanley and Isobel’s profiteering partner, Bent and Rafe’s fight in Charleston and the former’s encounter with Orry and the Huntoons back in Virginia. More importantly, Robert Fletcher continued to shine with his outstanding costume designs, as shown in the following images:

northandsouth2 - 5b northandsouth2 - 5c

Yes, Episode Five featured some fine dramatic moments and performances. It even featured some solid action scenes. But . . . I was not particularly happy with most of the subplots. I also found the ending of one particularly subplot rather disappointing. No one felt more relieved than me when Episode Five finally ended.

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – Episode Three “September 1862 – August 1863” Commentary

NorthandSouth1

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – EPISODE THREE “September 1862 – August 1863”

I have mixed feelings about Episode Three of “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”. Fortunately, most of my feelings are positive. This episode featured the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Gettysburg, and a major schism in the Main family, regarding Madeline Main and her two sisters-in-law – Brett Hazard and Ashton Huntoon. But there was still certain aspects of this episode that I did not find particularly appealing.

I found the first half of this episode to be rather dull. Those reading this article would find this statement surprising, since the Battle of Antietam was featured in this first third of the episode. But I did. Following President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, one of the Mains’ slaves, Jim, decided to take matters into hands and run away. Unfortunately, he was caught and killed by the Mains’ former overseer, Salem Jones. I will admit that the reaction to Jim’s death proved to be slightly interesting, thanks to the excellent acting by Erica Gimbel, Beau Billingslea and especially Forest Whitaker; who portrayed Semiramis, Ezra and Cuffey. I was especially impressed by Whitaker’s performance as he conveyed Cuffey’s bitterness over being owned by the Mains. However, I found Brett and Madeline’s presence at Jim’s funeral to be a touch patronizing. But that is merely a private opinion.

Now, I had no problems with Kevin Connor’s direction of the Battle of Antietam. I believe he did the right thing by keeping the battle solely focused upon Billy Hazard and Charles Main. This allowed their brief reunion to be not only surprising, but dramatic. But I do have one major quibble about this particular sequence. How did Charles and his fellow officer, Ambrose Pell go from being cavalry scouts to leading large bodies of infantry troops on the field? If the miniseries had earlier included a small band of scouts under their command, I could see them leading these men into battle. But large bodies of infantry troops? Were the officers of these troops dead? And what kind of troops were they leading? Infantry or dismounted cavalry? I found this kind of inconsistent vagueness very irritating. The Battle of Gettysburg was better handled . . . somewhat. Considering it was one of the major conflicts of the war and fought in the same region – Southern Pennsylvania – as the Hazards’ hometown of Lehigh Station, I was surprised that the screenplay did not focus too highly on it. The battle was simply used as a literary device for the reunion of George and Billy Hazard and an excuse for the latter to go AWOL and see Brett.

The second half of Episode Three turned out to be a big improvement. Most of the slaves left Mont Royal and I did not blame them one bit. Orry’s reaction to their departure was interesting, considering how “BOOK I” had established his slight aversion to slavery. More importantly, his character came off as increasingly conservative. I found this surprising, considering that in the novel, “Love and War”, his views on slavery and racial relations had become slightly more radical. I found that little moment in which Orry bid his mother Clarissa Main good-bye, following his furlough, rather lovely and touching, thanks to the performances of Patrick Swayze and Jean Simmons. But I have mixed feelings about Billy’s decision to go AWOL in order to see Brett in South Carolina. Frankly, I found it disturbing. I do not blame him for missing Brett. But if the writers had not sent her to South Carolina in that ridiculous story line in Episode 2, she would have remained in the North and Billy would not have went AWOL. And his decision to head for South Carolina will prove to be troublesome for Episode Four‘s plot. I am also remain dumfounded by George’s position in the Union Army. During his reunion with Billy before the Gettysburg battle, he claimed that he had been transferred to field duty. And he was seen commanding artillery units. Yet, after the battle, he was seen attending another meeting with President Lincoln and his Cabinet. What the hell? The screenwriters really screwed up this time.

The episode’s second half, Ashton Main Huntoon’s appearance at Mont Royal really stirred things a bit. I found it to be the episode’s most enjoyable segment. Before I explain why I enjoyed it, I have to say a few words regarding Ashton’s reason for visiting her home – namely to confront Madeline about her African ancestry and drive her from Mont Royal and Orry’s radar. If I must be frank, I found Ashton and Bent’s revenge against Orry by using Madeline’s family secret, a bit . . . anti-climatic. Frankly, I thought they could have exposed Madeline’s secret in a more dramatic and satisfying moment – like during a political party in Richmond (which happened in the novel) or expose the secret to the Mains’ neighbors. However, their act of revenge did result in a marvelous scene well acted by Terri Garber and Lesley Anne Down. Semiramis’ rant against Ashton, thanks to another great piece of acting from Gimpel, was nice touch, although a bit fruitless. But it was Brett’s confrontation with Ashton that really did justice to this episode. Kudos to Garber and especially Genie Francis. Francis also shared an excellent scene with Parker Stevenson, who as Billy Hazard expressed his growing discontent with the war.

There is one major problem with this sequence. When Ashton arrived at Mont Royal, she carried foodstuff for the plantation. This makes no sense whatsoever. Ashton was traveling from a state – namely Virginia – that had been ravaged by two years of war. The amount of foodstuff she was carrying from Virginia should have been rare. South Carolina, on the other hand, had been freed of any battles by 1863, aside from the Sea Islands and the forts off the coast of Charleston. There should have been plenty of foodstuff at Mont Royal, thanks to Madeline, Brett, Semiramis and Ezra.

Anthony Zerbe made his first appearance as General Ulysses S. Grant, whom George had traveled all the way to Tennessee to meet, on behalf of President Lincoln. Veteran stars James Stewart and Olivia De Havilland appeared near the end of this episode. Did anyone know that those two had once dated in the late 1930s? Anyway, Stewart gave a charming performance as Madeline’s Charleston attorney, despite his Midwestern accent. However, De Havilland’s portrayal as Virgilia Hazard’s field hospital supervisor, Mrs. Neal, proved to be more interesting and complex. I could not decide which character was more irritating – Virgilia’s arrogant disregard for Mrs. Neal’s advice, or the latter’s patronizing concern for Southern patients at the expense of the other patients and her unfounded suspicions that Virgilia was ignoring them. Both De Havilland and Kirstie Alley gave superb performances in their scenes together.

Although Episode Three had its flaws, I cannot deny that Kevin Connor did an excellent job as the director. But I believe he was ably supported by the miniseries’ crew. Once again, Jacques R. Marquette’s photography provided a good deal of color and style to this episode – especially in the Battle of Antietam sequences. Jospeh R. Jennings continued his excellent production designs, ably transforming viewers back to the United States of the early 1860s. I could say the say about Robert Fletcher’s costume designs. I was especially impressed by his wardrobe for Maude and Isobel Hazard, along with Ashton Huntoon, who ended up being the best-dressed character of the episode. Below are examples of Fletcher’s work:

northandsouthbook2 - 3c

northandsouth2 -3a northandsouth2 - 3b

Despite a some quibbles and a dull first half hour, Episode Three was an improvement over Episode Two. I was surprised by the number of excellent dramatic moments and first-rate acting in this episode. Also Kevin Connor’s direction of the Battle of Antietam and Gettysburg struck me as pretty damn good. I could say that Episode Three was the highlight of the 1986 miniseries. But I do not believe I would go that far.

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – Episode Two “July 1861 – August 1862” Commentary

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – EPISODE TWO “July 1861 – August 1862” Commentary

Episode Two began with the aftermath of Bull Run. It also featured Brett Main Hazard and Semiramis’ journey to South Carolina, Orry Main’s wedding to his widowed neighbor Madeline LaMotte, and Elkhannah Bent and Ashton Main Huntoon’s smuggling operations. I wish I could be objective about this particular episode, but I cannot. I dislike it too much. It is one of the main reasons why I have so much difficulty with “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” in the first place.

My main beef with this episode centered around the plot line that featured Brett and Semiramis’ journey south to Mont Royal, following the Bull Run battle. First of all, I believe that this particular plot line was badly written. Brett and Semiramis should not have had any difficulties getting past Union lines, since nearly the entire Union Army had fled to Washington in disarray, following the battle. Second, once they had reached Richmond and delivered the message about Clarissa Main’s injury, they could have accompanied Orry back to South Carolina. They would have arrived at Mont Royal in late July or early August 1861, instead of November 1861. And why did it take them so long to reach South Carolina in the first place? Surely, the two could have traveled by train. The Union Army had not began destroying Southern railroad tracks during the summer of 1861. And one last question – why on earth was a message sent to Brett in Washington D.C. in the first place? An accommodating neighbor of the Mains or a local doctor could have sent the message about Clarissa to Orry in Richmond. It would have been a lot easier. And quicker. Talk about bad writing!

I have a few other qualms about Episode Two. I find it odd that Justin La Motte never suffered any legal repercussions for his attack upon Mont Royal in Episode One. Nor did Orry Main encountered any repercussions for La Motte’s death, when he rescued Madeline from her venal husband. And could someone please explain Orry’s war duties to Jefferson Davies and the Confederacy? It is bad enough that he managed to procure such a high position within the Confederate Army, considering his previous military history. But what exactly was his duty? Was he the main quartermaster for the Confederate Army? Was he involved in investigating war profiteers? Or was he some unrealistic jack-of-all-trade? In fact, I have the same complaint about George Hazard’s position with the Union Army. Like Orry, his previous military history was very limited. Yet, he managed to become a military aide to President Lincoln and serve other duties for the Army – duties that seemed to be very varied. I was especially shocked to find George attending one of Lincoln’s Cabinet meetings. Really? Are they serious? This is incredibly sloppy writing. Both Charles Main and his fellow officer Lieutenant Ambrose Pell continue to unnecessarily cart around their swords, during their duties as scouts. And I still see no signs of enlisted men under their command. Episode Two also featured a moment when President Lincoln announced his “Emancipation Proclamation” to his cabinet . . . and George Hazard. I realize this should have been a profound moment, but the pretentious dialogue left me feeling cold.

However, there were some good moments in this episode. George and Orry had a bittersweet reunion inside a barn, while both were traveling to their respective capitals. Charles visited the widowed Augusta Barclay’s farm after being injured by Union cavalry. Stanley and Isobel Hazard scheme to profit from the war and make enough money to take over Hazard Iron. And in one brief scene, Congressman Greene had an embarrassed reaction to a wounded soldier that did David Odgen Stiers’ skills proud as an actor. Of all of these scenes, the one that really impressed me proved to be the one that featured Stanley and Isabel’s scheming. For me, this was a step up from their narrative in John Jakes’ 1984 novel. The reason I was so impressed by these scenes was due to the first-rate performances from the cast.

Aside from the Stanley and Isabel story arc, I feel that the rest of the scenes benefited from the cast’s excellent acting. This was especially apparent by James Read and Patrick Swayze’s performances in the scene that featured George and Orry’s reunion, and also the performances by Lewis Smith, Kate McNeill and first-time actor John Nixon. Both Philip Casnoff and Terri Garber continued to amazing heat in their portrayals of Elkhannah Bent and Ashton Main Huntoon. Kurtwood Smith gave an intense and fascinating portrayal of Billy Hazard’s commander Hiram Burdan. And Whip Hubley, an actor I have never been that particularly impressed with, gave an interesting performance as Billy’s regimental rival, Lieutenant Stephen Kent.

Kevin Connor continued to handle his actors with skill. And the miniseries’ photography by Jacques R. Marquette continued to strike me as colorful, but not particularly impressive. But there is one aspect of this production that continued to really impress me was Robert Fletcher’s costume designs – especially for the women. Below are examples of his work in this episode:

But if I must be brutally frank, Episode Two featured some of the worst writing in this miniseries, and probably in the entire trilogy. No amount of excellent performances or dazzling costume designs could improve my opinion or save what proved to be an otherwise dull episode.

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – Episode One “June-July 1861” Commentary

northandsouth2 - 1a

 

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – EPISODE ONE “JUNE-JULY 1861” Commentary

Judging from past articles I have written about the “NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy, one would surmise that of the three miniseries that have aired in the past decades (two in the 1980s and one in the 1990s) that I seemed to have the most problem with the second miniseries in the trilogy, namely “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”. And if I have to be honest, one would be right.

It is odd that I would choose the second miniseries as the most problematic of the three. “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” is set during the four years of the Civil War – a historical conflict that has heavily attracted my attention for so many years that I cannot measure how long. “HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III”, which had aired at least seven-and-a-half years after the second miniseries, was set during the early years of Reconstruction and has a reputation among the “NORTH AND SOUTH”fans as being inferior to the other two. But for some reason, I have had more of a problem with “BOOK II”. So I have decided to examine each of the six episodes of the 1986 miniseries to determine why this chapter in the “NORTH AND SOUTH” trilogy is such a problem for me.

Without a doubt, Episode One of “BOOK II” is my favorite in the entire miniseries. It re-introduced the main characters from the first miniseries in the story. It also set the stage for the main characters’ experiences during the war, for the rest of the miniseries. It featured an excellent opening shot on the streets of Washington D.C. that introduced both Brett Main Hazard, and the slave Semiramis. It also featured a well shot sequence that centered around a colorful ball at the Spotswood Hotel in Richmond, attended by Ashton and James Huntoon, and Elkhannah Bent. Most importantly, it featured one of my favorite battle scenes – namely the Battle of Bull Run that was fought near Manassas, Virginia on July 18, 1861. If I have to be frank, this interpretation of Bull Run remains my favorite. Director Kevin Connors filmed the entire sequence with great style and skill and composer Bill Conti injected it with a brash, yet haunting score that still give me goose bumps whenever I watch it. Even better, the sequence ended with actress Wendy Kilbourne uttering one of the best lines in the entire trilogy.

I certainly have no problems with the miniseries’ production values. Jacques R. Marquette’s photography struck me as rather beautiful and colorful. This was especially apparent in the opening Washington D.C., the Spotswood Hotel ball and Bull Run sequences. If I have one complaint, I wish the photography had been a little sharper. Joseph R. Jennings and his production designs team did an excellent job in re-creating the United States during the Civil War era. Bill Conti continued his excellent work as composer for the saga’s production. But if there is one aspect of the miniseries’ production values that really blew my mind were the costumes designed by Robert Fletcher. I was especially impressed by the following costumes:

northandsouth2-1b northandsouth2 - 1c

I do have a few quibbles about Episode One. First of all, it introduced Charles Main’s role as a cavalry scout for the Confederate Army. Considering that he started out as a Captain in this miniseries, it made no sense to me that he and another officer – a first lieutenant – would be participating scout duties without the assistance of enlisted men. I guess one could call it as an example of the story being historically inaccurate. And I wish someone would explain why the Mains’ neighbors (or slaves) sent word to Brett Main Hazard in Washington D.C., of the injuries her mother, Clarissa Main, had suffered when Mont Royal’s barn was set on fire by Justin La Motte. Would it have been a lot easier (and quicker) to send word to Orry Main, who was on duty in Richmond, Virginia?

I find the idea of both George Hazard and Orry Main serving as military aides to their respective political leaders – Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis – very improbable. Following their graduation from West Point in 1846, the two friends had only served at least 18 months in the U.S. Army before resigning for personal reasons. Yet, after the outbreak of a civil war, thirteen years, the audience is supposed to believe that both were able to secure such high positions within their respective armies? Especially when one considers the fact that neither were politically active between 1848 and 1861? I find this very illogical . . . even for a work of fiction.

My last major quibble featured the character of Elkhannah Bent. What was he doing with the portrait of Madeline Fabray LaMotte’s mother? The audience knew that he had procured it from an expensive whorehouse in New Orleans. But Bent had no idea that Madeline was romantically involved with one of his nemesis, Orry Main, until after Ashton Main Huntoon informed him. So, why did he bother to get his hands on the painting at a time when he was ignorant of the romantic and emotional connection between Orry and Madeline?

I certainly had no problems with the episode’s performances. The cast, more or less, gave solid performances. But I was especially impressed by a handful. Two of the better performances came from Parker Stevenson and Genie Francis, who portrayed the recently married Billy and Brett Hazard. I was especially impressed by one scene in which the two nearly quarreled over Billy’s decision to transfer from the Corps of Engineers to Hiram Berdan’s Sharpshooters Regiment. Terri Garber and Philip Casnoff literally burned the screen in their portrayal of the early stages of Ashton Main Huntoon and Elkhannah Bent’s affair. This episode featured another quarrel . . . one between George Hazard and his sister, Virgilia, who had arrived in Washington D.C. to become a nurse. Both James Read and Kirstie Alley were superb in that scene. And finally, I have to single out Forest Whitaker, who did a superb job in expressing the resentful anger that his character, Cuffey, felt toward his situation as a slave and toward his owners, the Mains.

Although Episode One featured some stumbling blocks that I have already mentioned, I must say that it turned out rather well. For me, it is probably the best episode in the entire 1986 miniseries. Not only did it featured some excellent performances, it was capped with a superb sequence featuring the Battle of Bull Run, directed with skill by Kevin Connor.

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – Episode Three “1848-1854” Commentary

northandsouth 3.1

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” (1985) – EPISODE THREE “1848-1854” Commentary

Episode Three of the 1985 miniseries, “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I”, immediately picked up where the previous episode left off. And unlike Episode Two, this particular episode stretches over a slightly longer period of time of six-and-a-half years – between the late winter of 1848 and the early summer of 1854. 

This episode began less than 24 four hours after Episode Two left off. Following his resignation from the U.S. Army, George Hazard paid a visit to his friend Orry Main to inform the latter of his upcoming wedding to Constance Flynn and to invite Orry to serve as best man. In Episode Three, Orry escorts George to the local rail stop in order for the latter to catch a northbound passenger train. Before George’s train arrives, the two friends spot escaped Mont Royal slave Priam attempt to board a passing freight train. Orry prevents Priam’s escape. But as he prepares to shoot the slave in order to prevent the latter from enduring more punishment, George begs Orry to simply allow Priam to go. An angry Orry concedes to George’s request and Priam continues his escape to the North. About a month later, George marries Constance at a local Catholic chapel in Lehigh Station with Orry and the Hazard family in attendance. During the wedding reception, Maude Hazard announces that George and older brother Stanley will operate Hazard Iron together, while Stanley remains control of the finances. And Virgilia Hazard invites Orry to attend an abolitionist meeting where she is scheduled to serve as one of the speakers. Several months later, a major accident at Hazard Iron leads Maude to place financial control of the company in George’s hands, much to the consternation of Stanley and his shrewish wife, Isabel.

The story eventually jumps to the early 1850s, which finds the Main family and others attending the funeral of Tillet Main. One of the attendants is Orry’s Cousin Charles, who has been staying with the family since the death of his parents. Unbeknownst to Orry, sister Ashton has developed a slight lust toward her cousin. However, Charles is attracted to house slave Semiramis, much to the consternation of both Ashton and Jones. Speaking of the latter, he is fired by Orry, who now serves as master of Mont Royal; and later has a fight with Charles at a local tavern. Also, Charles has become involved with a local belle named Sue Marie Smith and is later challenged to a duel by her fiancé Whitney Smith. When Orry helps train Charles for the duel, the two cousins become close. He also suggests that Charles considers a career as an Army officer and arranges for Charles’ entry into the West Point Academy. Orry discovers during the Mains’ visit to Pennsylvania that George has made arrangements for younger brother Billy into the Academy, as well. Also during the South Carolina family’s visit, Virgilia incurs the wrath of her family and the Southern visitors with her comments about the recent Compromise of 1850. Also, George and Orry become partners in the construction of a cotton mill in South Carolina, to the pleasure of both Stanley and Isabel, who believe that George has made a serious mistake. This episode also features Madeline La Motte’s discovery of her husband’s sexual tryst with a slave, and encounters his wrath. George joins Constance in her activities with the Undercover Railroad. She also convinces him to bring Virgilia along with the Hazard family’s visit to Mont Royal by the end of the episode.

As one can see a great deal occurred in this episode. This is not surprising, considering that Episode Three has a longer time span than the other five episodes and stretches across the fringe of two decades. Because of this longer time span and the fact that so much occurred in this episode, I cannot help but wonder if this episode would have benefited from an additional 30-45 minutes. Speaking of time, this is the first time a major blooper regarding the saga’s time span. Following the accident at Hazard Iron in the summer of 1848, the story jumped five years to 1853. The reason this is impossible is that during the Mains’ visit to Pennsylvania a few months after Tillet Main’s funeral, both George and Orry revealed that their younger kinsmen – Billy Hazard and Charles Main – would be entering West Point later that fall. Like I said . . . this is impossible, considering that both Billy and Charles will graduate from West Point in 1856 in the following episode. There is no way in the world those two will spend only three years at the West Point Military Academy. Tillet Main’s death should have occurred either in late 1851 or early 1852. Another scene featured Madeline LaMotte stumbling across her husband Justin LaMotte in a tryst with a female slave at Salvation Chapel, where she and Orry usually meet. My question is . . . why on earth would LaMotte go out of his way to have a rendezvous with one of his slaves, when he could have easily went to her quarters or have her sent to his room?

Although the character of Semiramis has been featured since Episode One, this episode ended up being the only one in which she had a prominent speaking role. Naturally, Erica Gimpel was excellent in the role, I suspect that the writers only used her character in this episode as a set up for the expansion of her role in “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II (1986) – including her attraction to Charles Main. I have a deep suspicion that Semiramis was more or less wasted in this miniseries, because Episode Three will prove to be her last appearance until the next miniseries. Perhaps the roles of Semiramis and the other slaves in “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” could be seen as indicative of the writers and producers’ limited attempt to explore the impact of slavery in mid-19th century America. Perhaps I am being a bit too harsh. But the saga’s exploration of the African-American characters seemed a bit more broad in the second and third miniseries that it was in the first.

It did not help that both John Jakes and the writers who adapted his novel for television managed to create a major blooper regarding the institution of slavery. Both the novel and the miniseries featured an abolitionist meeting in Philadelphia where Virgilia Hazard proved to be one of the speakers. First of all, the producers hired actor Robert Guillaume to portrayed famous African-American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, who also served as one of the meeting’s speakers. Mind you, Guillaume gave an excellent performance. But he was at least 57 when he appeared in this episode. But the abolitionist meeting occurred in the early spring of 1848 . . . when Douglass was just barely 30 years old. Fifty-seven . . . thirty. Hmmm . . . talk about a historical blooper. Virgilia’s speech centered on the topic of slave breeding. Naturally, Orry Main, who was at the meeting, expressed outrage and claimed that her accusations were false. Both George and Constance – who were also at the meeting – shared his feelings. Even Jakes seemed to support this belief in his novel. But despite her lurid words, Virgilia was right. Slave breeding was practiced in pre-Civil War America. Why would Jakes or the writers who wrote the miniseries treat this subject as some lurid fantasy in Virgilia’s mind?

Fortunately, Episode Three had its virtues. It featured another first-rate performance from Kirstie Alley as the volatile Virgilia Hazard. Not only did she give what I believe what was the best performance in the episode, she had at least two dazzling costumes:

tumblr_m5k4wuW3mP1rt697ao1_1280 1281

Other cast members such as Patrick Swayze, James Read, Inga Swenson, Wendy Kilbourne, Jean Simmons, Jonathan Frakes, Erica Gimpel, Tony Franks, David Odgen Stiers and Wendy Fulton also gave excellent performances. However, it is obvious this episode, especially the 1850s sequences, were all about the younger generation. Actors John Stockwell, Genie Francis, Terri Garber and Lewis Smith made their debuts in this episode as Billy Hazard and the three younger Mains – Brett, Ashton and Charles. All four did a great job in establishing their characters. I was especially impressed by Francis and Garber who did an excellent job in establishing the complicated relationship between sisters Brett and Ashton Main in a delicious scene featured in their Mont Royal bedroom. There were other scenes that I found not only enjoyable, but well acted – the Hazard Iron accident, the Philadelphia abolitionist meeting (despite a few historical bloopers), Orry’s blooming relationship with his younger cousin Charles, Virgilia’s quarrel with Isabel Hazard and Ashton Main during the Mains’ Northern visit and Constance’s revelation of her Underground Railroad activities to George. The episode ended with a deliciously funny scene between Read and Alley, when Virgilia convinces brother George to allow her to accompany the family south to Mont Royal.

With Virgilia and the rest of the Hazards leaving Lehigh Station for their trip to South Carolina, the story is set to get even more interesting in the next episode. And I cannot wait to see what will happen.

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

northandsouth 2.1

“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:

northandsouth 2.3 northandsouth 2.4

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.