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North And South (DVD) Review

Based on the best-selling novels by John Jakes, North And South premiered as a highly celebrated and critically acclaimed television series in 1985. In the spirit of Gone With The Wind, the novels cover 19th Century America before, during, and after the Civil War. As with the Margaret Mitchell classic, Jakes creates a larger-than-life cast of characters to tell his story of struggle between a Union of States divided on the issues of human bondage and state’s rights, loyalty to one’s nation and loyalty to the state in which one was born, along with innumerable interpersonal conflicts lost in the sands of time… To tell his story, Jakes uses two families, the Hazard family of Pennsylvania and the Main family of South Carolina. Boasting a star-studded cast, North And South is over 1000 minutes of riveting drama. Multiple discs cover the Civil War era with breathtaking cinematography, realistic settings, and the ever-increasing cauldron of conflict between North and South. You won’t want to miss this truly amazing series.

The North And South DVD covers all three books from the popular series, each a multi-disc set… Below is a less than comprehensive summary of each book. (Be Warned that the summaries below contain some plot spoilers) BOOK ONE – North & South (561 minutes) Book One of the North And South DVD covers the period prior the Civil War (1844-1860). Eighteen-year-old Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) prepares to leave his South Carolina plantation en route to West Point when he encounters an overturned carriage while leaving town. Aiding the passengers, Orry is introduced to the lovely Madeline Fabray (Lesley-Anne Down) to whom he provides a ride, giving her safe passage to the LaMotte plantation where her father and his friend Justin LaMotte (David Carradine) are waiting. Madeline and Orry agree to write each other while he’s away at West Point.

When Orry travels to New York, he meets up with a group of unsavory characters who try to rob him, but George Hazard (James Read) comes to his aid, and the two manage to fend off the criminals. George is on his way to West Point as well, and the two men strike up a friendship that continues through the duration of their schooling. While at West Point, they collude with others to rid the campus of menacing upperclassman Elkanah Bent (Philip Casnoff). The vindictive cadet vows revenge, and he gets it when George and Orry are placed under his command at a battle during the Mexican War. Bent sends the two men and their comrades into certain death, only to have his plan foiled by a Mexican retreat. While fighting in Mexico, George meets his future wife Constance Flynn (Wendy Kilbourne). Meanwhile, Orry and Madeline experience a personal hell when Madeline’s father hides Orry’s letters from West Point. Thinking that Orry has forgotten about her, Madeline agrees to marry Justin LaMotte, who treats her horribly. With Orry and Madeline continuing their love affair in secret, George and Orry continue their friendship. The entire Main family, including Orry’s sisters Ashton (Terri Garber) and Brett (Genie Francis) as well as Main cousin Charles (Lewis Smith), travel to Pennsylvania as guests of the Hazard family.

While in the North, the Mains are confronted by George’s abolitionist sister Virgilia (Kirstie Alley) and the differences between the North and South dominate the discussion, but George and Orry’s friendship continues unabated as they decide not to discuss such matters. When the Mains return the favor and invite the Hazards to South Carolina, Virgilia creates a ruckus by aiding in the escape of Grady, a neighbor’s slave. Later, she marries Grady, and the two join John Brown and his freedom fighters. When Grady is killed, Virgilia enlists the help of Congressmen Sam Greene. Meanwhile, Orry and George start a business partnership by opening a cotton mill in South Carolina. As the secessionist movement gains ground, the two continue to take comfort in the strength of their brotherly bond… BOOK TWO – Love & War (570 minutes) Book Two of the North And South DVD covers the beginnings of the Civil War and the war’s conclusion (1860-1865). Despite the growing talk of Southern secession, George and Orry continue to run their cotton mill and remain friends. George and Constance even operate an illegal stop along the Underground Railroad. But when Abraham Lincoln is elected president, the Southern states secede, and eventually war breaks out between the two nations. Orry’s sister Brett is in love with George’s brother Billy Hazard (John Stockwell) who is himself a West Point graduate stationed in Fort Sumter.

The war drives Billy far away from his new bride Brett, while Ashton sees the war as an opportunity to profit. Using her husband James Huntoon (Jim Metzler) to climb the ranks of the political circuit, Ashton decides that James is not the best man to serve her interests. She begins a relationship with Elkanah Bent, who is using the war for personal profit by smuggling luxury goods past the Union naval blockade. Meanwhile, the war tears apart both North and South. George works as an aide to Lincoln, while Orry works in a similar capacity for Jefferson Davis. During the course of the war, Charles meets a Virginia woman and falls in love with her. At war’s end, she bears his child, but dies shortly thereafter. In addition, Justin’s death finally gives Orry and Madeline the opportunity to marry. As the war wages on, it takes its toll on the two families. But despite the obstacles, they endure to the end.

At the war’s conclusion, George and Orry are reunited, and the two men vow to work together to rebuild a broken nation. BOOK THREE – Heaven & Hell (261 minutes) Book Three of the North And South DVD originally aired in 1994, several years after the first two books aired. With Patrick Swayze now an established star, the character of Orry Main is written out of the television screenplay for the final book. Several other cast members reappear, but the writing deviates substantially from John Jakes’s original novel, creating a plot which fails to make sense. Seeing as how Elkanah Bent died in the previous book, it’s somewhat ludicrous to have him reappear in book three. In addition, the dialogue is often stiff and awkward, the plot uninteresting, and the entire book is not worth viewing. Stick with watching the first two books on DVD. CONCLUSION Despite the failure of Book Three to arouse any interest whatsoever, the North And South DVD is more than worth the price for Books One and Two. This is a thoroughly entertaining mini-series reminiscent of a prime time soap opera, one with a historical perspective.


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