1 9 8 5 (USA)
6 x 120 minute episodes
In 1842, Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) leaves Mont Royal, the family cotton plantation near Charleston, South Carolina, to attend West Point for two years of officer training.
On the way, he stops a runaway carriage and meets and falls in love with Southern belle Madeline Fabray (Lesley-Anne Down), who agrees to write to him.
On arrival at the academy, Orry meets fellow cadet George Hazard (James Read), the son of a rich Pennsylvania industrialist. They will become lifelong friends.
Life at the academy is difficult in these pre-Civil War years, and Orry meets with abolitionists for the first time.
Orry and George’s real nemesis, however, is a drillmaster called Elkanah Bent (Philip Casnoff) – a cruel and relentless persecutor who takes particular pleasure in humbling Ohio cadet Ned Fisk (Andy Stahl) at sword practice but is humiliatingly defeated by Orry.
Bent is so hell-bent on revenge that even saving his life during a demerit points-chase is cruelly ‘rewarded’.
Two years pass, and the cadets get their first leave. Orry visits George’s family and is impressed by the ironworks they own (Hazard Iron). He also meets George’s sister Virgilia (Kirstie Alley in an annoyingly screechy performance), a rabid abolitionist who refuses to sit at the dinner table with him because his family has slaves on their plantation (largely out of economic necessity).
On his trip home, he learns that Madeline is to marry another local plantation owner, Justin LaMotte (played to a dastardly turn by David Carradine), at the behest of her father, Nicholas (Lee Bergere) and discovers why he hasn’t received any letters from her. LaMotte is a cruel and violent man, as Madeline learns on her wedding night.
Back at West Point, Bent arranges for Ned Fisk to be thrown during a hellish ride on his fiery mount Satan and bluffs his way out of a court-martial. But Orry and his pals arrange for the academy president to find his ‘love rival’ in Alice’s bed and bully him out of West Point after a promise of eternal revenge.
Orry begins a secret affair with Madeline while Bent plays his secret trump card – Ohio Senator Charles Edwards (Gene Kelly) is his natural father – to get commissioned as an infantry captain in President Polk’s war to wrest Texas from Mexico.
He sends lieutenants Orry and George on a virtual suicide reconnaissance at Churubusco. Shell-hit Orry is crippled for life, but Constance (Wendy Kilbourne), the daughter of Colonel Patrick Flynn MD (Robert Mitchum) – who saved Orry from worse – becomes George’s true love and agrees to marry him. He eventually inherits half of the family ironworks and – sickened by war – leaves the military.
The 12-hour miniseries, based on a best-seller by John Jakes, was originally telecast in the US in six two-hour segments on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
The series then descends into soap opera-style melodrama in the manner of Dynasty – albeit with even more cleavage!
Musical icon Johnny Cash plays John Brown in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo designed to bring “star power” to the series. Other big-name cameos include Robert Guillaume (as Frederick Douglass), Elizabeth Taylor (as a madam in a New Orleans brothel) and Gene Kelly.
The warfare, conflicts and dangling plots at the end of the “final” episode were picked up the following spring with the 12-hour North and South: Book II.
Madeline Fabray LaMotte
Sen. Charles Edwards
Constance Flynn Hazard
Georg Stanford Brown
Ashton Main Huntoon
Congressman Sam Greene
David Ogden Stiers
Isabel Truscott Hazard