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1883

★★★★

starring: sam elliot, tim mcgraw, faith hill, and isabel may

 

REVIEWER: lyall carter

Follows the Dutton family on a journey west through the Great Plains toward the last bastion of uncolonised America.

Yellowstone, the mega modern western TV smash hit from creator Taylor Sheridan and helmed by Kevin Costner, has its prequel in 1883. An uncompromising depiction of the brutality of the American frontier and the pioneers who set out to settle it, 1883 is an expansion, viscerally entertaining series with a great ensemble cast. 

 

Shea Brennan, a former Union Army captain, has the herculean task of guiding a group of ill prepared immigrants from Texas to Montana and he does not suffer fools. Brennan convinces James Dutton to help lead the wagon along with Margaret and the rest of his family. They embark on a journey west together through the Great Plains toward the last bastion of untamed America as they are fleeing poverty to seek a better future in America’s promised land — Montana. 

 

“Nothing had prepared me. No books, no teachers, not even my parents. I had heard a thousand stories, but none could describe this place. Some call it the American Desert, others the Great Plains. To know it, you must walk it, bleed into its dirt, drown in its rivers. It is hell – and there are demons everywhere.” And with that opening narration accompanied by a visceral scene of wagons engulfed in flames and the ground littered with bodies full of arrows, 1883 announces its brutal and bombastic arrival. 

 

It’s not just brutality that makes 1883 compellingly, binge worthy-television. It’s the narrative with all its twists and turns, as the multiple story threads are neatly woven together. The character development is typical Taylor Sheridan quality all the while played out on the grand canvas of the American frontier. 

 

The casting of real life country music singing couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill is pure genius as McGraw takes on the role of the gritty, cowboy lead with great fervor and gusto while Hill is perfect as the hard but fair matriarch. Isabel May lights up every scene journeying from a wide-eyed innocent girl to a street-wise frontier woman. But it’s Sam Elliot who’s the standout in a superb ensemble, bringing the broken and world weary Shea Brennan to life in a gruff, heart of gold kind of way that only Elliot can do. 

 

An uncompromising depiction of the brutality of the American frontier and the pioneers who set out to settle it, 1883 is an expansion, viscerally entertaining series with a great ensemble cast.

★★★★