Written by Kirk Baird“Never forgive. Never forget.” That’s the somber tagline for the History Channel’s Hatfields & McCoys miniseries, which set high marks in ratings for cable programming when it aired in late May.
The record number of viewers who tuned in to watch the miniseries is also a testament to not only the quality of the Hatfields & McCoys, but the enduring fascination we have with this bloody feud that consumed and ultimately decimated two Appalachian families in West Virginia and Kentucky. The roughly six-hour series recently made its debut on DVD/Blu-ray.
Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton star as the rival patriarchs, “Devil” Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy, respectively. The friends turned foes served together as Confederate soldiers, and looked after each other. But the mental toll of the Civil War is more than Hatfield can bear and so he deserts the army, something McCoy can never forget, especially when he returns from the war — the sole surviving member of his platoon and a former prisoner of war — to find his family scraping by while Hatfield’s family business prospers. McCoy’s animosity toward Hatfield spills over to the rest of his family, and the Hatfields grow equally intolerant. Their rift leads to a murder; add an unwelcomed love affair between Anse Hatfield’s oldest son and Randall McCoy’s daughter, and the feud is on.
The miniseries takes a few liberties with historical facts for drama’s sake. In reality, because of intermarriages between the two clans, the families were not as segregated as Hatfields & McCoys suggests, and their epic feud had more to do with professional jealousy — Randall McCoy’s bitterness over Anse Hatfield’s thriving lumber business — than personal spite.
But Hatfields & McCoys more than adequately captures the spirit of the irrational hatred, and how the subsequent violence consumed two families as well as friends and neighbors. The miniseries proves, if nothing else, there were no winners in this war of family honor, only an expanding cemetery full of fresh graves.
And speaking of long-standing feuds, it’s worth noting that Hatfields & McCoys was directed by Kevin Reynolds, who had a big news in Hollywood falling out with Costner twice while directing the actor: in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves over Costner’s screen time, and in the 1995 mega-flop Waterworld, in which Reynolds left the project, and Costner took over as uncredited director.
Reynold subsequently remarked to Entertainment Weekly, “In the future Costner should only appear in pictures he directs himself. That way he can always be working with his favorite actor and his favorite director.”
The pair obviously has patched up their relationship since then. In a half-hour making-of feature, Costner even remarks, “Kevin, for me, is just a very talented director. And I made no bones about it. I’ve supported him and supported his career and his talent for a long time.”
Thankfully, this is one feud that didn’t end in bloodshed.