Last Night's Viewing: Hatfields & McCoys, Channel 5
"From here on out, I fight only for my own," announces "Devil" Anse Hatfield, as he prepares to desert from a group of retreating Confederates. When he says this, Anse sincerely believes that he's announcing his retirement from futile combat.
In fact, his remark is an unwitting declaration of war because, as the head of the Hatfields of West Virginia, he's fated to preside over the most notorious family feud in American history. Hatfields & McCoys, Channel 5's latest US import, opens the story of that long and dim-witted exchange of cruelties before it actually begins. When Anse lights out for home a friend tries to persuade him not to run – Randall McCoy, a comrade-in-arms who is later to become Anse's bitterest enemy.
The two families live by the Tug Fork river in West Virginia, in country where moonshine liquor and narrow valleys can turn even an offhand remark into a motive for murder. After Randall's brother suggests that Anse's uncle is a little closer to his dog than is socially conventional, he's shot dead in retaliation for the insult, and a spark is struck that starts the fire smouldering. There's abundant tinder to ensure that the flame catches. While Randall has returned impoverished from the war, Anse is wealthy and getting wealthier, buying up land for the timber rights, and using the profits to buy more acres. "It's like wiping your ass with a wagon wheel. Ain't never gonna end, is it?" chuckles a relative, in a phrase that applies just as well to the circularity of revenge killing.
Kevin Costner, who won an Emmy for his performance as Anse, plays him as a man willing to let bygones be bygones: "There's no North, no South. Just people who got money and people who ain't," he says. "I mean to do business with them who have." But Randall won't let the enmity drop and seizes any opportunity to exercise it. A court case over a stolen pig ends in another murder and then a humiliating face-off in court. And once the toxin of injured pride has been added to the mix there's no healing the rift. As a basic plot, tit for tat and then tit again has its limitations. As always with such engagements, there's a danger that no one outside the fight will understand what it's about or care deeply either. But Hatfields & McCoys has enough quid-spitting grit in it to keep you watching, and Costner reminds you that he can command a screen, in the right kind of inexpressive role. Ronan Vibert has a nice turn too as Perry Cline, a McCoy lawyer who isn't above using extra-judicial means to get what he wants, and there's a Romeo and Juliet plot twist (drawn from the real events) to give you a brief break from the stabbing and shooting.
Everyone in Scandal, a political thriller from the showrunner who brought us Grey's Anatomy, talks in fluent Sorkinese – that rattling 90mph dialogue in which there's never an um or an urr and only rarely a pause for breath. Sorkinese involves elaborately knowing psychological projections, a lot of ponderous irony, and bullet-point rhetoric in which none of the bullet points are ever forgotten. I find it very tiresome myself, but if you don't you might enjoy this cheerfully ludicrous tale about a Washington crisis-management firm run by the fabled Olivia Pope. "My gut tells me everything I need to know," Olivia brags to her new hire. She doesn't always listen, though: "You made me distrust my gut!" she wails after her ex-lover the President (don't ask) lies to her about a sex scandal. Fortunately, she and her gut are back on speaking terms by the time one of her employees needs advice about whether he should ask his girlfriend to marry him: "My gut tells me she's in this with you," she says. My gut says no.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Crash victims in car flattened by shipping container emerge with just minor injuries
- 2 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 3 Satellite full of sexually experimental geckos adrift in space, Russia loses control of mission
- 4 Exclusive: Cameron’s Big Society in tatters as charity watchdog launches investigation into claims of Government funding misuse
- 5 Joey Barton and Yossi Benayoun become involved in Twitter row over Israel-Gaza conflict
Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor 'wheel on people who have mental health problems' says comedian Jo Brand
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer: First look at Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey
Orange Is The New Black season 3: Pornstache isn't coming back
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage from US parenting groups
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains