November 3, 2018 is the thirty-third anniversary of the 1985 television miniseries North and South.
North and South told the story of George Hazard (James Read) and Orry Main (Patrick Swayze), two young men from the north and south respectively who meet approximately twenty years before the Civil War, attend the military academy at West Point and develop a life-long friendship that is tested due to the changing climate of the country and their differences because of their individual beliefs and values from how they were raised.
I remember eagerly anticipating watching North and South on that Sunday night in 1985.
I was a twenty year old history buff who enjoyed previous ABC Novels for Television, in particular The Thorn Birds. I have always loved sweeping sagas that span years and/or generations. And John Jakes is a prolific writer and masterful story teller who is skilled at taking real life historical events and placing his characters in the thick of the action by having them interact with well known persons of the time. In The Bastard, Phillip Kent takes part in the drama leading up to the American Revolution and meets John Adams and Paul Revere to name a few. North and South was no different. The two protagonists one from the North and the other from the South develop a lifelong bond of friendship that endures the changing times and the differences in their beliefs due to their upbringing. George Hazard (James Read) and Orry Main’s (Patrick Swayze) time at the military academy at West Point offers them the chance to meet future Civil War generals Stonewall Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant.
I feel North and South is the greatest miniseries ever made; it is my favorite movie of all time. But what is it about North and South that has cemented its place in my heart for thirty three years? I admit a large part of the affection is due to the fact it represents a happier time in my life. I was young and optimistic, my mom was alive and the world was a safer place. The other reasons have to do with the production itself. Let’s take a look at the reasons why North and South is my favorite miniseries.
- The opening score and soundtrack. As soon as the opening theme of North and South plays, it stirs powerful feelings within me. Composer Bill Conti is a master at creating a mood with his pieces. And with North and South’s music, Conti managed to convey a thrill for the characters and their story in the first few bars.
- The majestic scope of the production. With a large cast of major players as well as numerous extras, crew, props, costumes and locations, North and South was a breathtaking film that visually transported the viewer back to the 1860s. Everything was meticulously researched and executed to ensure authenticity. Oftentimes when watching a film, especially when it’s suppose to take place in a city, I’ve commented how fake it looked. I remember watching a particular television show where it’s setting was Philadelphia and as a native Philadelphian, I knew with certainty there was no way the place was Philadelphia. Even a small thing like a wrong prop could take you out of the time or setting. For me, North and South pulled off what it set out to do: Recreating antebellum north and south.
- Bringing Author John Jakes’ novel to life on television. One of the problems with watching a film based on a novel is how much better the book is than the movie and the comparisons of what is lacking between book and film is usually painfully obvious. The screenwriters who transformed Jakes’ novel to screenplay did a great job. Yes, there were changes (which unfortunately became obvious when North and South Book III aired in 1994)
- Casting. The casting of North and South was a major reason why the miniseries was so successful. Each actor brought magic to their characters through their performances. I can’t imagine anyone else playing Orry, George, Madeline, Ashton, Brett, Bent, Virgilia or Charles other than Patrick Swayze, James Read, Lesley-Anne Down, Terri Garber, Philip Casnoff, Kirstie Alley, Lewis Smith (sorry Kyle Chandler, but Lewis Smith WAS Charles for me).
- The message of love, family and loyalty North and South shows. No doubt about it, we are living in sad and scary times filled with fear, hatred and distrust. There have been many reports on the news of deadly shootings and unwarranted calls to the police. I often hear people talk about loving everybody. I don’t think we need to love everybody. But we do need to respect each other’s differences and treat each other with respect. Although Orry and George didn’t always agree with each other due to the differences in their upbringing, they cared for each other and worked towards not letting those differences tear them apart. That’s what we need to do as a country. Will it happen? I hope so…unfortunately, I don’t see it happening in my lifetime.
There you have it. North and South is my favorite miniseries and movie of all time. In my fifty-three years and with the countless number of films and television shows I’ve seen over the years, for me none has come close to North and South.
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