Decades of feuding, six hours of TV

Posted May 25, 2012, at 3:30 p.m.

The 19th-century conflict between the Hatfield and McCoy families became the definitive feud of American history. To this day it provides a shorthand way of describing a seemingly endless battle between two groups. But what really happened between the Hatfields and McCoys?

The History channel offers an answer with the three-part miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys,” starring Kevin Costner as “Devil Anse” Hatfield and Bill Paxton as Randall McCoy, the patriarchs of the feuding clans. It premieres at 9 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. History has also tied other programs to the Hatfields/McCoys theme, including back-to-back episodes of “Pawn Stars” at 8 p.m. Monday.

Costner, who is also a producer of the series, has demonstrated a need to take lots of time to tell a story, and “Hatfields & McCoys” follows that pattern. At times, it seems as if the program is going to last as long as the decades consumed by the real-life feud.

But that time demonstrates how pervasive, and complicated, were the events in the feud. Not only did they involve two large families, but also lawyers, judges, at least one minister, the governors of two states and the U.S. Supreme Court. Periods of seeming peace would end suddenly in capricious bloodletting. (CBS News reported a few years ago on a rare disease afflicting the McCoys, which may have caused some “hair-trigger rage and violent outbursts.”) And when one side was attacked, the other had to respond in kind.

The drama, which draws heavily on historical accounts of the feud, traces it to hard feelings between Anse and Randall during the Civil War, feelings that carried into the postwar years. Although they lived on opposite sides of a river, their paths repeatedly crossed and their interests conflicted, usually with lethal results.

The cast is good, with many effective scenes. But I still felt too often that the tale could have been more tightly told — and more dramatic as a result.

Rich Heldenfels: rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.

©2012 t he Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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