Terry Morrow: Finer details miss the point in History's 'Hatfields & McCoys'

Within the context of History — the channel — the scripted miniseries "Hatfields & McCoys" plays out in ways it would not if it were on AMC or HBO.

Told over three nights (beginning at 9 p.m. today), "Hatfields & McCoys" could easily be edited down to two nights or four hours. A leaner script would do the subject justice with a two-hour movie.

This miniseries is full of slow-moving scenes of long dialogues and little movement. Peppered throughout are exceptionally violent moments, mainly gun play and sudden slaughter.

This, of course, is what a channel devoted to the past would seek in a script, and actors who love to hear their own voices drip with wordy scenes are seduced by this.

But total accuracy to the past isn't found. The language is mainly contemporary. The bodies of the poor Appalachian people don't measure up: The men have potbellies and look soft as if hard work and little food aren't terribly important, when, in fact, they both were.

A firmer adaptation would have been more faithful to the times.

While the truth may not be in the finer details of "Hatfields & McCoys," the miniseries plots a clear path on how this great American family feud ignited, escalated and exploded, almost literally, in the two families' faces. That's the most fascinating feature of the six-hour series.

On paper, "Hatfields & McCoys" is a mix of AMC's "Hell On Wheels" and HBO's "The Sopranos," trading the New Jersey accents for exaggerated mountain drawls. In execution, this doesn't reach those lofty heights.

As Hatfield patriarch Anderson "Devil Anse," Kevin Costner, who is one of the producers, too, displays the range of a man capable of deep mercy as he is shocking violence. After fleeing the Civil War as witnessed by McCoys patriarch Randall, just as masterfully played by Bill Paxton, Hatfield has a difficult time claiming land he says was deeded to him. McCoy believes the land was his family's all along.

A pig theft and bloody shootouts later, the Hatfields and McCoys are embedded in an all-out war that threatens to destroy both dynasties.

The patriarchs' iron grip on duty, honor and being narrow-sighted rolls like a snow ball into an avalanche.

Complicating matters even more is the romance between Roseanna McCoy (Lindsay Pulsipher) and Johnse Hatfield (Matt Barr, who looks better suited for a miniseries on surfing with his hours-in-the-gym body and sun-kissed blond hair), whose families disapprove of this "Romeo and Juliet" development.

"Hatfields & McCoys" is a compelling piece of human drama, if only History could have rewritten it.

Score: 2 stars (out of five)

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Terry Morrow may be reached at 865-342-6445 or morrowt@knoxville.com.

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