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Highly Entertaining Civil War Soap Opera
on December 27, 2008
This is what I especially love about DVDS, the chance to see something that will likely never play on a television channel again. 1980's BEULAH LAND was a three-part mini series running just over four and a half hours. It's not perfect but it is highly entertaining and very well-acted. The program spans a period of over 30 years, from decades before the Civil War to the War to it's aftermath. BEULAH LAND stars Lesley Ann Warren who marries her childhood crush and eventually becomes mistress (the nice kind!) of his vast plantation estate, Beulah Land, battling evil overseer Paul Shenar, Yankees, financial hardships, hunger, and her feelings for artist Michael Sarrazin, not necessarily in that order. At times BEULAH LAND threatens to become a P.C. GONE WITH THE WIND or a PG MANDINGO (or vice versa) but it's extremely watchable (I planned to watch it over several nights and ended up watching the full movie in a night) and nice bit of nostalgia when these lavish mini series were on the main networks several times a year in the late 1970's and early 1980's. One thing I found a bit irritating was the continous jumps in years in the storyline as well as several main characters dying outside of the story, having just read some Amazon reviews of the book it appears the movie is only following what the book outlined.
Lesley Ann Warren is very appealing as the noble heroine Sarah, Meredith Baxter is fun as her fairly trampy sister. Paul Rudd (not the current film star of the same name) is appropiately bland as Sarah's husband Leon and Hope Lange shines in a too brief role as his imposing mother. Paul Shenar may give the best performance as the rather dashing example of pure evil but equally fine work is done by Dorian Harewood in the complex role of Floyd, a slave of dignity and intelligence who yearns to be a free man but remains on at Beulah Land. Clarice Taylor as Floyd's mother Lovey also gives a superb performance. Jenny Agutter is pretty good as the whore who becomes Shenar's bride although the British actress curiously speaks with an Australian accent at times instead of a Southern one.
Some of the more fascinating threads in the storyline of BEULAH LAND are somewhat under the surface: Leon and Floyd's relationship from best friends in childhood to it's ultimate strain as they grow into master and slave, Floyd's discreet unrequited love for Sarah, and a strong suggestion of at least a latent lesbian relationship between Leon's sister and her devoted black companion.
The current DVD cover shown on Amazon.com for BEULAH LAND seems to suggest the film is a grittier Civil War story like THE BLUE AND THE GREY; the copy I own has a more appropiate cover of Warren and Sarrazin that suggests a old-fashioned romance. Although the DVD lacks any sort of "extras", and doesn't even have closed-captioning, I consider it rather bargain-priced considering it's a two-disc set with 281 minutes of story at it's current price. BEULAH LAND may not be a classic but it's a solid piece of storytelling and should appeal to those who enjoy this genre of filmmaking.