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Review: History's 'Hatfields & McCoys'

This three-part miniseries about
America’s most famous feuding families sensibly
starts out amid gruesome gunfighting on a
Civil War battlefield in West Virginia in 1863.

Confederates Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield
(Kevin Costner) and Randolph “Ran’l” McCoy
(Bill Paxton) fight side by side and save each
other’s lives, but fall out when Hatfield (after
some serious Audie Murphy heroism) deserts
and McCoy is captured and imprisoned by the
Union Army.

When McCoy finally makes it home to the
Tug Fork Valley
in the Appalachians,
bitter and emotionally
and Hatfield
has begun
prospering in
the timber business.

Hatfield tries
to befriend
McCoy, but the
chasm is far wider than the borderline river separating
the families, with the Hatfields on the
West Virginia side and the McCoys in Kentucky.

State sovereignty plays a role in the drama:
the U.S. Supreme Court eventually allows Kentucky
to prosecute the Hatfields after an 1888
attack on Randolph McCoy and his family. Convictions
in that case finally put an end to the
battles. Most of the time, though, when the conflicts
head to court, the results are inconclusive
and lead to more violence.

In all, some 20 people perish in the conflict,
some quite gruesomely.

Incidents that sparked the violence have
become legends in themselves. The first to die
was Ran’l McCoy’s brother, Harmon, whose
main fault was joining the Union Army.

The accused theft of a McCoy hog by a Hatfield
led to a ludicrous court case and the killing
of a pro-Hatfield witness.

Most famous of all is the tragic romance
of Johnse Hatfield (Matt Barr) and Roseanna
McCoy (Lindsay Pulsipher). Devil Anse forbids
their marriage, and later wonders whether that
was a good idea.

Costner comes across as relatively reasonable,
strong and charismatic. Paxton is more rigid
and filled with rage and righteousness. Standout
performers include Pulsipher, Tom Berenger as
Anse Hatfield’s sociopathic “Uncle Jim” Vance
and Mare Winningham as Sally McCoy, the matriarch
who loses four sons and a daughter to
the feud. Points deducted for obvious dramatic
license during the Civil War scenes and the abduction
of Johnse Hatfield, and for one gratuitous
use of the unrelated expression “a real McCoy.”

Updated: Monday's premiere of Hatfields & McCoys set an ad-supported cable record with a reported 13.9 million viewers for night one of three.