CBS changed the name of this telepic from “Shenandoah” between production and airing, but the web might as well have called it “Gone With the Breeze,” so shameless a small-screen rip-off is this Civil War meller.
The attempts at parallels, small and large, to “GWTW” are laughable: the tempestuous romance between two headstrong people who can’t decide if they love or hate each other; a scorned, scheming belle; a reprobate expelled from the military academy; a drunken Irish father; a sage who decries slavery and doubts the South’s war-readiness; the announcement of war that wreaks havoc on a major social event.
The fall and miscarriage on the stairs is the real coup de grace. At least no one vows never to be hungry again.
The plot centers on a wealthy planting family, the Doyles, and the two things that threaten their insulated, privileged lives at Elysian Fields: the beginning of the War Between the States, and the marriage of high-spirited, rebellious but good-hearted older son Jackson (Daniel Markel) to the working-class but proud Rebecca Morgan (Tracy Griffith).
Jackson and his brother Thomas (Zack Galligan) enlist in the Confederate Army , with the younger commanding the older, who is clearly the better military strategist. Back on the home front, Rebecca is welcomed into her husband’s family only after they learn she is pregnant. She is constantly tormented by Emily Doyle (Olivia D’Abo), Jackson’s cousin and former intended.
By the end of the two hours, enough potential conflicts have been set up and loose ends left to give one the suspicion that CBS is thinking about a series.
Writers Geoffrey Thomas George and Richard Fielder add a few fun twists, such as the icy matriarch Antonia (Kate Mulgrew), who redefines steel magnolia, and the love affair between Henry Doyle (Robert Foxworth) and one of his slaves, Ruby (Laura Carrington).
Writing ranges from effective — a scene between Jackson and his father over the former’s elopement and the latter’s affair and love-child crackles — to seemingly anachronistic: It would appear that married men used the same lines on mistresses then as they do now, and people were getting in touch with their inner child 130 years ago.
Too bad CBS didn’t pay a little more attention to some of the period details. There are numerous instances when hairstyles, costumes or behavior are not true to the era: Women wore their hair dressed at the neck, not on top of their heads; young matrons (especially pregnant ones) did not show cleavage.
Telepic, under direction of Roger Young, is darkly lit by d.p. Donald M. Morgan, which doesn’t enhance atmosphere. John Debney’s music (which contains a number of riffs reminiscent of guess what) is frequently overbearing. And there are too many in-their-face close-ups; the acting rarely justifies such attention.
Perhaps CBS should have just begged Ted Turner for the rights to show “Gone With the Wind” or bided its time until the “Scarlett” miniseries is ready for airing.