History has its dark side, and on May 28-30, the History Channel will
be presenting a new look at the lengthy post-Civil War family feud
that has made two names — Hatfield and McCoy — synonymous with
revenge and murder.
Hatfields & McCoys” will be broadcast at 9 p.m. for three
successive evenings starting Memorial Day. The six-hour miniseries
has been divided into three two-hour segments.
Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton lead a cast that also includes proven
performers Powers Boothe, Tom Berenger and Mare Winningham in
retelling the story of how two families and their respective friends
and allies suffered tremendous losses as differences over Southern
loyalty, properties and even young love fanned flames of vicious and
Costner as Devil Anse Hatfield and Paxton as Randall McCoy are
hardy men, each devoted to their large families. As “H&M” begins,
Hatfield and McCoy are side by side, fighting for a losing cause as
Confederate soldiers in the final days of the Civil War. Devil Anse,
seeing the futility of the South’s effort, gives up and goes home.
Randall, meanwhile, stays in the fight and eventually is captured.
When the South surrenders, Randall returns to his Kentucky home,
beaten and embittered over his friend Devil Anse’s desertion.
Devil Anse, who resides on the other side of the Tug Fork River that
borders Kentucky and West Virginia, makes overtures to Randall but
is rebuffed. Later, when Hatfield wins a legal battle against
Randall’s cousin Perry Cline (Ronin Vibert) over timber rights,
whatever chances of reconciliation between the two family patriarchs
Eventually, another legal battle between family members over the
ownership of a pig spills out of the courtroom and results in
several murders. Thus the war begins.
Not helping matters is Devil Anse’s uncle Jim Vance (Berenger), a
grizzled old guy and a loose cannon, vindictive and blood-thirsty. On
the McCoy’s side is Bad Frank Phillips (Andrew Howard), a private
detective hired by the McCoys and deputized by the governor of
Kentucky. He is smart and tough and becomes effective at hunting down
And there are other complications — like the Romeo and Juliette
angle. Devil Anse’s son Johnse (Matt Barr) falls in love with
Randall’s daughter Roseanne (Lindsay Pulsiphar), testing the family
bonds, especially when Roseanne becomes pregnant with Johnse’s child.
While Roseanne is mercilessly banned from her home, Johnse, though
not quite as harshly treated, nevertheless falls from his father’s
As “H&M” progresses, it gets more difficult to keep track of who is
who. There are more than two dozen characters in this presentation,
some of them not around much as swift justice is served. Viewers
may need a scorecard to keep track of all the characters and which
side they are on.
The task of keeping all this flowing chronologically fell on Bill
Kerby and Ted Mann, who co-wrote the story, and Mann and Ronald
Parker, who collaborated on the teleplay. Kevin Reynolds as director
keeps the pace going.
Costner and Paxton actually share very little screen time together
– their families and loyal friends almost serve as a buffer between
them. But each views the other as a mortal enemy.
When guns are not blazing or people are not being strung up by lynch
mobs, the battles move into the courtroom with Cline being the savvy
lawyer for the McCoys and Boothe’s Wall Hatfield, a judge and older
brother of Devil Anse, trying to be a voice of reason on the Hatfield
Other sympathetic characters include the faithful wives of the
patriarchs — Sarah Parish as Levicy Hatfield and particularly tragic
is Winningham as Sally McCoy. Both women stand by their men in the
increasing madness, seeing their children die needlessly. Another
victim in this bloody mess is Cotton Top Mounts (Noel Fisher), the
illegitimate son of Devil Anse’s brother Ellison. He is a
simple-minded young man of no animosity but soon is drawn into the
battle and may be the most innocent victim of all.
Johnse, meanwhile, merits sympathy while needing to be slapped
upside the head. Even after his relationship is doomed with Roseanne,
he starts it up anew with Roseanne’s cousin Nancy McCoy (Jena
Malone), marrying her in a sincere but ignorant attempt at cooling
the feud between the families. Instead, Nancy turns opportunistic and
her loyalties are hardly unpredictable.
“H&M” clearly focuses on the paradox of life in America in the
latter 1800s, a time when civilized behavior was stressed yet a
brutal eye-for-an-eye mentality continued to haunt the culture.
Costner presents a steadfast and dignified Devil Anse, a man who
clearly sees himself in the right with no qualms over taking justice
into his own hands when the law falls short.
Paxton and Winningham are wrenchingly showcased in the final segment
as Randall and Sally face mounting losses of their children.
Brutalized by Jim Vance, Sally becomes a damaged shadow of herself,
while Randall, once a man of great faith, turns against his religious
beliefs as his world falls apart. Soon he is a babbling, wayward
“H&M” is an emotional exercise through its six hours. Viewers may
see their sympathies switching back and forth between the feuding
family members. Ultimately, one can only sigh and wonder how this all
escalated into sheer insanity.
Coming up on DVD:
Just in time for summer — as if there is not enough going on in movieland these next couple of months — will be “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.” Robert Downey Jr., currently on screen as Iron Man in “The Avengers,” is featured in his other signature role as Sherlock Holmes, teaming up with Jude Law as Dr. Watson. June 12.
Fans of The Beatles’ big-screen shenanigans can pick up “Yellow Submarine” starting June 5.
“Project X,” the latest in the “recovered video footage” genre, will be out June 19.
June 26 will mark the DVD releases of two films that seemed to have been in the theaters about two minutes ago: the cop buddy film “21 Jump Street” with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill; and Sam Worthington reprises his role as Perseus in “Wrath of the Titans.” The other springtime Worthington vehicle, “Man on a Ledge,” will be available May 29.
Big Oscar winner “The Artist” will be released June 26.