If you’re like me, all you know about the Hatfields and McCoys are that they’re the names of two feuding families. I was interested in seeing movie stars Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton educate me on the finer points of the details of their feuds, but History's miniseries seems like a one dimensional B-movie.
Randall McCoy (Paxton) and Anse Hatfield (Costner) are only shown as friends briefly. Once Anse deserts the Civil War there’s no love. By the time Randall returns, his family has already been antagonizing Hatfields, leading to the murder of his brother Harmon McCoy.
So Hatfield is the good guy. Randall McCoy comes back from the war and he’s just picking a fight. You can have your own opinions about desertion, about politics, about business practices but you don’t need to make a production out of it. Run your own business, live your own values. Obsessing over the Hatfields is just petty.
Of course these are families who have not seen decades of movies where petty differences and revenge lead to tragic violence, so I’ll give them the simplicity of the era. The revenge aspect isn’t helped by Harmon's (Chad Huggins) ridiculous fake beard and exaggerated accent.
McCoy gets totally paranoid about Hatfields stealing his pigs. Anse wants to stay friends but it’s just impossible with this type of personality. It seems one dimensional but then it escalates so once the McCoys are killing Hatfields, you’ve got to answer for bloodshed. It doesn’t help that the town judge is a Hatfield. Maybe they could have found someone else to smooth things over, but they pay that conflict of interest lip service.
The second half of part one really focuses on the relationship between Roseanne McCoy (Lindsay Pulsipher) and Johnse Hatfield (Matt Barr). It’s a standard star crossed lover story, and the McCoy side really overreacts. The Hatfields are more concerned for the inevitable conflict their relationship will create, but that’s just reality. If the McCoys could keep their kids out of their personal feud, you get the impression the Hatfields wouldn’t just hold grudges to spite their kids. But it’s worth exploring that these innocent young adults have enough to deal with their romantic feelings. They can’t understand the complications they’re causing.
Anse has a southern accent to add to the Kevin Costner legacy. It’s not all JFK but it’s fun to hear another one in a TV movie. Or maybe it’s because Paxton’s Yosemite Sam anger makes Costner seem subtle. The script makes Hatfield more sympathetic, so Costner gets a more dimensional role to play. Paxton doesn’t get to show much range, but maybe the real McCoy was like that.
There’s a little bit of good battlefield action and some horseback chases. All flatly lit but you sense where the front lines are and where our soldiers have to get to and what’s at stake. It ends on a suspenseful note to hook you into watching night two. I could probably just look up what happens in the history book but I’ll give the drama a chance to pick up and payoff the story.