1 9 8 0 (USA)
3 x 120 minute episodes
Beulah Land was a three-night drama series adapted from the Deep South novels by Lonnie Coleman, a novelist/playwright from Georgia.
All the familiar ingredients were there: the powerful women who love their plantations as passionately as they do their men (until the man comes along, of course; in this case, it’s Yankee artist Casey Troy, played by Michael Sarrazin, but think Rhett Butler or Clark Gable); the contented slaves on one plantation, and the less contented ones on a neighbour’s; the black maid who talks such an endearing patois (remember the immortal Butterfly McQueen in this role in Gone With the Wind, giving a performance that threatened to run away with the picture?) – and pulsing away in the background all the while is the surge of history, the threat of the Civil War (high-spirited women stand up to the Yankee invasion), the destruction of a society and its (painful) attempts at rebuilding.
One of the most fascinating things about the American South is that it has two realities; there is the territory of Civil Rights murders and the Ku Klux Klan, and there is the territory of legend.
All the writings of William Faulkner, for instance, all the speeches of Martin Luther King, all the decades of violence, have never managed to dislodge totally that other Deep South, the dream world originally created by Margaret Mitchell.
Shot on location in Mississippi and set between 1827 and 1872, the sweeping drama followed the fortunes of Beulah Land, the Kendrick family home, from the heights of its splendour to its destruction during the American Civil War and beyond.
Lesley Ann Warren played Sarah Pennington, who becomes the mistress of the plantation through marriage to inept and immature heir Leon Kendrick (Paul Rudd). She gradually becomes obsessed with keeping the land.
In the meantime, she has to deal with her selfish, philandering sister Lauretta (Meredith Baxter Birney); snarling, confrontational overseer Roscoe Corlay (Paul Shenar) who has designs on owning Beulah Land himself; withdrawn, mentally-bruised sister-in-law Selma (Madeleine Stowe); and various other troublesome relatives, slaves, Yankees and so on.
Several decades of storyline were presented, sometimes skipping a few years at a time, as Sarah went from a young girl to a mature woman without visibly ageing.
Throughout the three nights, viewers were beaten over the head with a collection of phoney Southern accents that sounded as if the cast had learned their dialogue by watching episodes of Hee Haw.
Amongst the people most likely to be offended by Beulah Land were black people, historians, Southerners whose families did not own great plantations, men in general, Yankees and anyone of average intelligence.
WLBT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi, pulled the series even though much of it had been filmed near the town and lots of local people had bit parts in it. General Manager, Bill Dilday, made the decision following the recent shooting of a black woman by a white policeman and subsequent black protests (with the Klan counter-demonstrating).
Dilday recalls, “everybody was angry, and it just didn’t seem to be the right time to run a touchy program like Beulah Land.”
Lesley Ann Warren
Allyn Ann McLerie
Meredith Baxter Birney
Robert Walker Jr.
Selma Kendrick Davis
Peter De Anda