North and South: The Complete Collection
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This Emmy Award-winning powerful adaptation of John Jakes' best-seller tells the story of the turbulent events and emotions that ignited the Civil War. In the tradition of Gone With The Wind, this glorious epic focuses on the lives of two families who are geographically and ideologically placed on opposite sides of the war - The North and The South. The saga follows the families through their changing fortunes at home and the harsh realities of the battlefields until the South surrenders and the families are reunited in friendship. In the final installment, the story of the two families continues through Post-Civil War Reconstruction into pioneer Indian territories.
The Hazards: James Read and Kirstie Alley talk about their roles and the Hazard family
The Orry's: Patrick Swayze talks about his role
A Time and Place: look at the period and the south
An Epic Production: Civil War recreations and the scope of production
Memories: final thoughts from cast and crew
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Top Customer Reviews
The miniseries is reasonably faithful to the novels, and where it departs, the changes are generally benign. The story is also quite faithful to history, and both North and South are portrayed with respect, although the story harshly indicts the institution of slavery, and reminds Americans of the incredible fact that this evil was a basic fact of our country for a very long time.
Book one of North and South is superb. It spans the period from about 1840 through the outbreak of the Civil War. The portrayal of the Mexican War is quite good, and the story of George and Orry graduating West Point and fighting together in the Mexican War makes for a fine story. The film does very well at recreating the attitudes of Northerners and Southerners during this period--conflicting attitudes which ultimately could not be reconciled by the normal political institutions of the American republic and which instead culminated in the Civil War. The battle scenes are very good and surpass what we normally expect of a miniseries.
Book Two takes place immediately following the firing upon Ft. Sumter. It is again very well done. This is one of the very best straight Civil War films. It is not without flaws. Just as in the novel, the Elkanah Bent sub-plot adds very little to this story. This is true despite the fact that the Bent sub-plot in the Book Two film bears essentially no resembence to the novel. But overall, this is a fine story. Lloyd Bridges in particular does a fine job in his portrayal of Jefferson Davis. Hal Holbrook is a wonderful Abraham Lincoln. Here again the battle scenes are very good. My only quibble is that the soldiers' uniforms are too natty and pristine. Real Civil War soldiers were never very well turned out. The combat and conditions were too tough for that, and the supply trains too inefficient.
Book Three takes place after the end of the Civil War, and is so bad as to be unwatchable. I'm not fooling. The way I look at Book Three is that the DVD makes a fine beer coaster while watching the excellent Books One and Two. Not only is Book Three unwatchable, but it totally departs from the story as set forth in the novel. (as far as I could tell-I mean it when I say that Three is unwatchable). Book Three of Jakes' novels was far and away the weakest of the three, but it was somewhat readable. Not in the miniseries, however.
North and South is imperfect, but it is still so good as to rate five stars. It really is a great story of the Civil War era. James Read and Patrick Swayze turn in great performances as George and Orry. Read was sufficiently good in this part that I am surprised that this role did not lead to greater things for him.
The flaws. First of all, as in all John Jakes stories, the characters, particularly the villains, are one-dimensional at best. Virgilia Hazard, Elkanah Bent, Ashton Main--these characters are complete villains and in real life no one in their right mind would want to live on the same continent with such scoundrels. I have always thought that this caricature-like characterization is the weakest aspect of John Jakes' writing, and these flaws, unfortunately, are faithfully recreated in this miniseries.
The good news is that as far as I can tell, this DVD collection is uncut or close to it. I've read the novels, seen the miniseries, and owned the VHS version of the miniseries, and these DVDs seem to be complete. Further, the color and sound on the DVDs is very good. Overall this is a tremenous value that many fans of North and South have waited for for a long time.
I also read all three books a long time ago, and am currently in the process of reading them again, also more than a decade later. Given my familiarity with both the books and the filmed version, I am of the opinion that this is one of those rare instances ("Lolita" being another example) in which, notwithstanding substancial differences between the filmed and written stories, both are classics in their own way. Producers of the mini-series decided, with Jakes' consent, to make the following changes in the story, among many others:
1) Do away with Orry's brother Cooper and "merge" him with Orry. This was a mistake, I feel, inasmuch as Cooper was a crucial character who represented the more moderate Southerner;
2) Not have Orry lose an arm. This probably owed to Hollywood sensitivities, which would not have borne watching Madeline be intimate with a man who lacked one arm;
3) Not have Orry die, and give the series a "Hollywood Ending". This is because the producers initially did not choose to film Book 3, "Heaven and Hell", and thus needed a satisfactory ending to Book 2. If "Heaven and Hell" and been filmed at the same time as the other two, the story could have been more faithful to the book;
4) Have Orry meet Madeline BEFORE going to West Point. This actually helped the Orry-Madeline storyline somewhat, since it gave the two lovers more time to fall in love with each other, and thus gave Orry more of a reason to be hurt by Madeline's marriage to Justin;
5) Have Orry kill Justin. Another improvement on the book. In the book, Justin's death is very perfunctory and anti-climactic;
6) Give Orry and Madeline a son, and give George and Constance a daughter by the name of Hope.
The filmed version is generally heavier on the Orry-Madeline storyline than the book. I don't have much of a problem with that, since both the actors' performances are phenomenal and very convincing: Patrick Swayze, normally no Laurence Olivier, gives what I feel is still his best performance, and Lesley-Anne Down is very professional and convincing as a Creole belle who is, in Jakes' novels, the spiritual center-piece of the narrative. It must also be said that, as played by Down, it is hard for the viewer not to fall head-over-heels over Madeline!! The rest of the core cast is outstanding, specially James Read as George, Kirstie Alley as Virgilia, David Carradine as Justin and Terri Garber as the memorable Ashton. Also, keep an eye open for a very young Forrest Whitaker and pre-Star Trek Jonathan Frakes. The series' massive budget also allowed producers to cast legends such as Jimmy Stewart, Olivia DeHavilland, Robert Mitchum, Hal Holbrook, Lloyd Bridges, Elizabeth Taylor and Johnny Cash (!!!) as (who else?) John Brown.
Book 3 of the series does not merit much discussion, though it does not marr the excellence of Books 1 and 2. It chose, belatedly, to stick to the actual Book 3, with dire consequences. It really does not belong, narratively or otherwise, to the first two series. Also, only Lesley-Anne Down and James Read signed on to do it and, good as their performances are, they were really treading very shallow waters, production-wise.
All in all, notwithstanding the disappointing dearth of bonus materials (the lone making-of documentary is very interesting, albeit frustratingly brief), this moderately-priced DVD set is an essential addition to my film collection. Given the sad state of affairs, I don't think any mini-series of this quality or budget are forthcoming.
Highly, highly, highly recommended. For those with longer attention spans, all three books are essential reading, as well.
etc. I assumed these important episodes were cut. I then went to the computer to write a review and complain. It was there that I discovered a
revue written by some nice person explaining that each disc had 2 parts!!! She said after watching Part 1, you need to go back to the menu and go
into episodes and pick Part 2. I never would have thought to do that. It worked and there were all the missing episodes!!! I am SOOO grateful to that person and I agree that it would have been nice if that bit of instruction was included with the DVDs. I think that after viewing Park 1, if you simply allow the DVD to continue on through the credits, the Part 2 starts up.
Of course, I love the miniseries as much as I did years ago when it first aired on TV and the several times I watched it on my VCR tapes after that.
I belong to a Civil War Study Group and find that I know a few facts featured in the movie from that. Well done.