WYTHE COUNTY, Va., May 29, 2012 — Despite the all star cast and production team of the History Channel’s Hatfields and McCoys, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was just slightly off in its depiction of the famous feud. I am hoping the first part of it is laying the groundwork for a more compelling and dramatic story to be told in the remaining four hours of the six-hour series.
At times the dialect is perplexing, and the slow Southern drawl present in a couple of the characters is completely out of place in the mountains and hollows of West Virginia and Kentucky.
That doesn’t mean it is totally lacking in authenticity, because some of the structures and people do accurately portray the region and its people.
On the other hand, it often comes off more as a Western than a tale of Appalachia. This no doubt is due to the Costner effect, who plays an admirable cowboy, but has yet to convince me he’s an accurate Devil Anse Hatfield.
I found myself struggling to understand what Costner was saying, and I’m well versed in mountain speak. I can only imagine how difficult it may be for someone with no exposure to the Appalachian dialect.
The story poked along at times, making me wonder how smart it was making this a six hour show instead of two action-filled hours.
Again, this is probably the Costner effect, an actor and filmmaker known for his marathon movies such as “Dances With Wolves,” which ran 236 minutes, and “The Postman,” which ran 177 minutes.
Had the filmmakers chosen accuracy over economy and filmed it in Appalachia rather than Romania, they would have had the benefit of local authenticity.
Had each actor taken a few days to talk to people in that part of Appalachia they would have come much closer to perfecting the twangy dialect that has so far eluded the majority of the cast.
Where the feud takes place in the Tug River Valley, it is mountainous with very little flat land beyond the closed-in valleys and hollows. The mountain scenery in the film is much too open and rambling for authenticity. These are small points, but for the sake of accuracy, important ones.
I think filming in Romania instead of Appalachia will be what keeps this mini series from being anything more than a good effort, quickly forgotten, but then I admit I am biased. Any story told about Appalachia needs to be accurate, to prevent any further misunderstandings about the region and its people.
Should the film redeem itself in the next two nights, I’ll be the first to admit it, and hope I do. The History Channel shouldn’t be discouraged from future undertakings in the historical drama genre, it just needs to focus more on authenticity.
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