This comment discusses "North and South Book I" dealing with 1842-1861 period
The 19th century history of the USA is mostly identified by people with the Civil War (1861-1865). This is a reasonable opinion because that was Civil War which put the Union under the severe test; that was the Civil War which made Americans realize how precious it is to live in peace; finally, that was this period which at last brought the end to the shameful system of slavery.
From the birth of motion pictures, there were people who adapted that time onto screen. D.W. Griffith made his unforgettable BIRTH OF A NATION. Yet, the most famous film about the north-south clash is still, I suppose, GONE WITH THE WIND (1938). Unfortunately, fewer people know the magnificent TV series based on John Jakes' novel, "North and South." It is the very best TV series ever made and the time spent on watching it is really precious. I taped it on my video from Polish TV many years ago and have come back to it with great pleasure many times since then. Why?
Firstly, the entire story is deeply rooted in historical reality. The two families, the Maines from South Carolina and the Hazards from Pennsylvania, represent two entirely different ways of life. In spite of that, friendship unites them. Yet, what they experience is the struggle all people do: friendship attacked by "truth" of "political correctness", love attacked by hatred of "legal spouses", gentleness by strength of "social heroes". Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) is my beloved character - someone who finds love and who is quickly deprived of her; someone who cares for friends but political fanatics step in the way and ruin much. Finally, he is someone who can see the tragic future for his land but there is nothing he can do about the south's inescapable fate. His friend, George Hazard, is similar in most aspects but sometimes he appears to have a stronger character. It is him who shows Orry that although there are tragedies, he must get up from despair and live since life is the most precious thing we have. Although they represent two different lifestyles, their friendship occurs to be stronger than prejudice or conflicts.
Other characters are also particularly well developed. There are villains, like Justin LaMotte or Salem Jones who are really wicked but most of the people are ambiguous as the nature of humanity has always been. Charles Maine is, at first, full of rebellion, prone to fighting, later, however, he learns to be a true southern gentleman for whom southern pride is not courageous words but foremost courageous deeds. Virgilia Hazard represents the most fanatical side of abolitionist movement striving to condemn slavery and punish the owners of "black breeding farms." Her marriage with Grady appears to be a symbol of equality but also a symbol of saying "NO" to the politics of the south. Two interesting characters are Orry's sisters, Brett and Ashton - sisters in whose veins runs entirely opposite blood. Brett, in her gentleness but also naiveness, believes in absolute fidelity. She marries Billy, even though he is a northerner, because she truly loves him. Brett is the representation of all that is precious in any young woman. Ashton, however, is a vamp, a tigress, a woman who does not hesitate to do the most wicked things. The clear picture of their world views clash is their chat about men and family...unforgettable moment! Most characters head for their values...yet, war breaks out and they'll have to put aside a lot...
Secondly, the performances... someone said that not all people act naturally. I wouldn't say that. I'd rather say that all cast do very good jobs in their parts from the main characters who are portrayed by younger staff to the guests that consist of famous stars, including Liz Taylor, Robert Mitchum and others. Patrick Swayze as Orry does a great job. I consider this role one of his best ones. Lesley Anne Down as Madeleine is also very memorable. Her part, perhaps, entails too much suffering but she manages to express all sorts of feelings really well. Kirstie Alley is very appealing and truly memorable as the abolitionist Virgilia Hazard. Phillip Casnoff is worth consideration as horribly ambitious Elkanah Bent as well as David Carradine as a monster husband, disgusting Justin LaMotte. And, in contrast to him, a mention must be made of Jean Simmons who is truly excellent as Orry's mother whose heart beats for the glory of family life and concord of union.
Thirdly, memorable moments leave an unfading trace in one's mind. Who can forget the first meeting of Orry and Madeleine - what charm, what gentleness there is in this scene! Or is it possible to skip the moment when Madeleine's father dies? I found it really powerful, there is a real drama in this moment, a drama of a woman being left by someone who really loved her. I also liked Churubusco sequence and George Hazard so worried about the life of his dearest friend, Orry. Then his meetings with Constance are terrific. Virgilia's speech in Philadelphia is a masterpiece of performance. And the final moment of the first part: although North and South may separate, their friendship will never die. Orry and George symbolically join hands as the train moves on. Simply, there are so many beautiful and powerful scenes that it's impossible to mention even half of them here. And these gorgeous tunes by Bill Conti and shot in brilliant landscapes. The music is very touching and memorable.
What to say in the end? "North and South" is a real must have on DVD, simply an amazing TV series about the victory of all that is precious in us: love, friendship, loyalty, honor.
If you are interested in more in-depth analysis of the TV series, I invite you to read my reviews of all episodes.
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