Now that ABC’s retribution romp, “Revenge,” has ended its first season, satisfy your bloodlust with a History channel miniseries about the ultimate family feud — this one featuring horses, moonshine and muskets.
“Hatfields & McCoys” tells the true story of a legendary grudge match that started at the end of the Civil War and dragged on for decades, nearly igniting a war of its own between Kentucky and West Virginia. It stars Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton as the respective patriarchs of the Hatfield and McCoy clans.
The three-part drama is an intimate look at a notorious rivalry that made international headlines and went so far as to require U.S. Supreme Court intervention.
The series starts on a battlefield in 1863, the last time Confederate soldiers Devil Anse Hatfield (Costner) and Randall McCoy (Paxton) would find themselves fighting on the same side. Not long after Hatfield goes home to West Virginia and McCoy returns to his house across the border in Kentucky, tensions and tempers start to flare.
A dispute erupts over timber rights. Someone gets accused of stealing a pig. Hatfield’s uncle offs McCoy’s brother, a Union soldier. Before you know it, everyone’s ginned up and the body count is higher than some cable network’s audiences.
“The Hatfields and McCoys are famous,” a man tells his wife on a family outing to watch a member of Team Hatfield get hanged.
“Famous for what?” she asked.
“Killing each other,” an onlooker chimed in.
Despite all the hatred, or perhaps because of it, a love story develops between Hatfield’s handsome playboy son, Johnse (Matt Barr, “Harper’s Island”), and McCoy’s wide-eyed daughter, Roseanna (Lindsay Pulsipher, “True Blood”). Their Romeo-and-Juliet relationship only adds fuel to the fire.
“Hatfields & McCoys” reunites Costner with director Kevin Reynolds, who collaborated with the actor on many projects, including the 1995 big-screen bust “Waterworld.”
Their newest venture has a cinematic feel. The well-executed drama is a welcome addition to the programming lineup for a network better known for non-scripted series like “Swamp People” and “Pawn Stars,” the latter of which will air back-to-back Hatfield and McCoy-themed episodes at 7 p.m. Monday.
Spread out over six hours, the miniseries can feel a tad repetitive at times. A few tangential characters are guilty of chewing up the scenery, but in general the acting is arguably the show’s greatest strength.
Costner and Paxton are joined by an impressive cast that includes Tom Berenger as Hatfield’s hot-headed uncle, Powers Boothe as Hatfield’s big brother, Mare Winningham as McCoy’s beleaguered wife and Jena Malone as McCoy’s trouble-making niece.
“Hatfields & McCoys” is an interesting look at a subject we all heard about in school, but most of us would be hard-pressed to go into specifics about what prompted this piece of American lore and how it played out.
It’s a cautionary tale about vengeance and how difficult it can be to bury the hatchet, which didn’t happen — at least officially — until recently. Sixty descendants of the Hatfields and McCoys signed a symbolic peace treaty in 2003.
Let’s hope the miniseries doesn’t open old wounds.