The 80s were a pretty over the top time. Hair was big, the clothes were wacky, and primetime was flooded with soaps like Dallas and Dynasty.North and South was a mini-series that married the the melodrama of a soap opera with the epicness of a period piece. Starring 80s megastar Patrick Swayze and featuring cameos from legends like Elizabeth Taylor and James Stewart, it’s a really cheesy, fun way to learn about The Civil War.
Orry Main, the only son of a Southern plantation owner, meets the love of his life and his best friend on his way to West Point. While still in South Carolina, he helps a beautiful woman named Madeline who promises to write him while he’s away. When he reaches the North, he meets fellow cadet – George Hazard from Pennsylvania. Hazard bets a doubtful Main that he will graduate and together the two withstand the cruel hazing of drill master Corporal Bent. After graduation, the two fight together in the Mexican War and start a company together. However, as tensions grow across the nation, their conflicting political beliefs test their friendship again and again.
One of the things that stands out the most about North and South is that it’s fairly pro South. The film doesn’t choose a side but implies that the real issue was extremism from both parties. One of the series’ most frustrating characters is an abolitionist (George’s sister Virgilia played by Kirstie Alley) who does not care who she hurts in the name of the cause. However, the most evil characters are Southern. It’s a bit uncomfortable to see plantation owners that beat their slaves over any inconvenience, juxtaposed with others who treat their slaves like family. In one of the series’ more powerful scenes, George takes Orry on a tour of his family’s foundry and shows him the living quarters for the workers. Orry declares them worse than where his slaves live and George reminds him that his people always have the option of leave, but Orry asks him where are they supposed to go on with such low wages. It’s an interesting point and when you read about the working conditions during the Industrial Revolution, etc where these employers any more admirable that slave owner simply because they didn’t legally own their workers. Food for thought.
North and South is a little hard to recommend because you really have to be in the right mood for it. There are a lot of giggle inducing love scenes (Patrick Swayze is the oddest kisser in this, it’s enough to make me want to rewatch his other films just to insure this was just a fluke) and some of the villains are fairly cartoonish but with the right company, it’s easy to develop a North and South drinking game. It’s also fun to pick out all the familiar faces.There were three “seasons”, but the third edition was a last ditch effort to make some money off the franchise. Much of the original cast had to be written out or replaced and there’s a few plot twists that don’t make much sense, feel free to skip it since the first 2 parts are work fine without it.