WYTHE COUNTY, Va., May 30, 2012 — Last night’s second of three chapters of History Channel’s Hatfields and McCoys mini series relied less on the nuances involved in laying the groundwork for the story and more on action, and not a moment too soon. Less driven by dialogue than action, it was a lot more compelling.
The History Channel has already made history for a non-sports, traditional cable channel with 17 million viewers watching part one and its encore. Whether it is the star power of Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton or the riveting story of the famous feud between two warring clans, viewers settled in.
In fact, the History Channel also beat out “America’s Got Talent” on NBC, which was the top broadcast show and garnered 10 million viewers.
So far the series has been faithful to history, but still falls short of portraying authentic scenery and dialect. Fortunately the film expanded beyond the main characters and displayed more accurate accents and attitudes in the many minor characters of the story.
However, the liberal use of foul language is uncharacteristic, and the absence of music all together is a glaring omission of what was important in mountain culture in the late 1800s.
As a daughter of Appalachia, every time I saw a wide-open expanse of scenery so unlike the mountains where the feud took place, I silently cursed the filmmakers for not choosing to film in Appalachia but in Romania.
The murderous demeanors of most of the characters I’ll write off to latent hostility from the Civil War because in actuality while neighbors were few and far between in those days, they almost always treated others with a welcoming hospitality. Isolation made neighbors friends first because survival dictated it.
Even with the feud and all its bloodshed, it still feels like the people are being portrayed as confrontational first and welcoming second. This was not true then any more than it is now. Neighbors counted on each other and settled any animosities in a less lethal way.
That said, it was certainly a lot easier to be pulled into the story last night than it was the first night of the three part series. The story moved much more quickly, and the feud started looking more like a vendetta in which any Hatfield or McCoy became fair game. The theme worked well for the “Godfather,” and it seems to have served this film well, so far.
I am very curious to see how they will portray the state and eventually the federal intervention required to end the violence. If Appalachia is known for one thing, it is a collective distrust of authority. This alone will make me tune in Wednesday night for the final installment.
With any luck, the third and final night will be that much better than the second one, and by the conclusion the characters depicted will have transcended the stereotypes so many people have of mountain people and be truly historical. And that’s important for a show that attracted 17 million viewers on the first night. That’s something a series appearing on the History Channel should strive for.
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