Saturday, December 17, 2011
Saturday at the Movies #77 - Hell on Wheels
I did not see this one coming. Normally, I don't have much interest in westerns, novels by Maggie Osborne excepted. Still, the lure of a historical drama on television is strong, rare birds that they are. Two things drew me in, though.
First, the grit. If I'm going to do a western, then give me something raw, something harsh, a trek into the unknown, undertaken by the adventurous and the desperate. In short, don't give me a nice, mannerly story here. I expect something that's still finding its way, tension between characters who might not otherwise ever breathe the same air, and I am fully aware words and actions are going to get ugly at times. That, for me, comes with the territory. Aforementioned Maggie Osborne novels are good examples, or for those who aren't opposed to some very gritty spiritual content, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.
Second, Colm Meany, who plays a New York senator and entrepreneur here. I first noticed him in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and was beyond pleased with his performance in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, so anything with Mr. Meany in it automatically has my interest.
Okay, two and a half if we count the visuals. :points to title card above:
This may not be the most romance-rich program out there, though we do have some characters who would be right at home in a western romance novel. There's the recently widowed Lily, a woman alone in the rapidly changing world as the birth of the railroad means the death of the unspoiled frontier. Confederate veteran Cullen Bohannon, a man now without a country, bent on avenging the assault and murder of his wife at the hands of his Union counterparts. Elam Ferguson, a freed slave who rises to a position of power amongst the railroad crew...and may be having more than merely physical grownup fun time with one of the local working girls. Then there's the man known as "The Swede," who isn't Swedish, but will get the job done, by whatever means neccessary.
There's preachers, Indians, immigrants, former slaves and survivors of Indian captivity, jockeying for position in this rapidly changing world. This is the birthing pangs of a new era and the death throes of an old one, happening at the same time. Colm Meany's "Doc" Durant is a nineteenth century spin doctor, keenly aware of not only what he is actually doing, but how his actions will be perceived, though his motives are far from altruistic.
Hell on Wheels delivers everything I want in a historical drama, even if it is outside my comfort zone, setting wise, and I'm okay with that. I can already tell this is one I'm going to want to watch multiple times to catch bits I've missed on the first viewing. How about you? How gritty is too gritty for a historical drama, or is there no such thing as long as it stays true to the times?