The History Channel miniseries "Hatfields and McCoys", directed by Kevin Reynolds and written by Ted Mann and Bill Kerby enjoyed brisk ratings this week. Thus far, this rendering of the epic struggle between two families living in West Virginia and Kentucky is the best one to date. That is not to say that it did not have many flaws. In general, I admired Ted Mann's work on the HBO series "Deadwood", where he created great dialogue for both fictional and real denizens of the South Dakota boom town. The characters in this miniseries also generally speak with a high level of intelligence with only a few hillbilly archetypes thrown in. The acting for this program is outstanding with a few exceptions. Most notably, Jena Malone gets my vote for the worst overacting in the part of Nancy McCoy. However, Powers Boothe, Kevin Costner, Mare Winningham and Bill Paxton all turn in solid performances. For his portrayal of "Uncle Jim" Vance, Tom Berenger is the standout in this cast.
As with most Hollywood versions of significant historical events, the writers and filmmakers feel a need to change the truth to suit their plot development. This includes the requisite romantic elements and composite characters. With that latitude in mind, I still found the historical inaccuracies of this television movie to be staggering. Having performed extensive research on the real feud, I would like to point out a number of these for the perspective DVD buyer:
1) The show made a big point about Devil Anse taking unofficial leave from his Rebel Company D during the Civil War. Randolph McCoy also went on unofficial leave soon afterward. So there was no moral high ground there; nor do I know of any historical record stating this caused any ill will between the two men.
2) The show depicted major religious differences between Randolph and Devil Anse. I have never read anything stating religion played a strong part in the feud. However, economic jealousy did.
3) The hog trial was conducted in Deacon Anse's cabin in Raccoon Hollow; and not a regular court house in Mate County convened by Wall Hatfield.
4) Perry Cline was not counsel for the plaintiff during the hog trial.
5) Asa Harmon McCoy was not shot while hiding at a still. Ironically, this Union man owned a slave named Pete. Unfortunately, for Asa, Pete was followed to a cave by Logan County Regulars.
6) Bill Staton was not ambushed by Paris and Sam McCoy. In fact, it was the opposite, as Staton layed in wait for the McCoys. Sam was never convicted and was acquitted for murder on the grounds of self defense.
7) Randolph McCoy did not send his sons to retrieve Roseanna McCoy from the Hatfield cabin. He sent his three daughters. Therefore, Johnse Hatfield was never shot by the McCoy brothers.
8) Frank Phillips did not kill Tom Wallace. Larkin and Jacob McCoy probably did.
9) Wall Hatfield did not surrender himself to Pikeville authorities and was captured by Frank Phillips. Additionally, he was not the sympathetic character portrayed by Powers Boothe. He was an overpowering manipulator who had a strong lead role in the murders of Tolbert, Pharmer and Randolph McCoy Junior.
10) Devil Anse and Wall Hatfield did not call for Sarah McCoy to come visit her sons before they were executed. She demanded to see her boys. Wall and Devil Anse blocked her entrance to the schoolhouse where her captive sons were being held. For nearly an hour, in the pouring rain, Sarah pressed the Hatfield brothers before they relented to a visit.
11) Perry Cline had a wife; and I have never read that he showed romantic interest in Roseanna McCoy.
12) Cap Hatfield wrote the famous letter to the newspapers asking for an abatement of hostilities, not Devil Anse. Though it looked very touching to show Devil Anse reading the letter to the clan.
My other criticism of this show, is though it has been described by critics as "atmospheric", I found it to be humorless and relentlessly grim. I know the producers had six hours to tell the story, but I believed there were many missed opportunities to show less violence and greater depth of character. Instead, most of the primary players were dislikable. The real Devil Anse was a remarkable man of extraordinary humor. There was great wrong done on both sides during this clan warfare; but these actions were carried out by complex people of both good and bad temperament. Finally, the fact that little was depicted about the tremendous court battles between Kentucky and West Virginia was I believe, another opportunity that was missed.