Frankly, I don’t give a damn
Scarlett Episode #1 (1994): 5 out of 10: There are three more of these things? This was almost four hours. (Editor’s note: it was only 90 minutes.)
“Scarlett” is a 1994 television miniseries, based on the 1991 novel “Scarlett” by Alexandra Ripley, a sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel “Gone with the Wind.” The miniseries continues the story of the fiery Southern belle, Scarlett O’Hara.
In the aftermath of Melanie Wilkes’ death and Rhett Butler’s departure, a distraught Scarlett O’Hara Butler (Joanne Whalley) determines to win back her estranged husband’s love. When Rhett (Timothy Dalton) refuses to reconnect, Scarlett returns to her family plantation, Tara, in Georgia, in search of solace. Instead, she finds the state still suffering from the aftermath of the Civil War, the family’s cotton fields in disarray, and her sister, Suellen (Melissa Leo), bitter.
Yearning for a fresh start, Scarlett moves to Charleston, South Carolina, to live with Rhett’s mother and sister. While in Charleston, she attends a party hosted by Rhett’s family, where she realizes how adored Rhett is by the local society, particularly the women. Despite her attempts to fit into Charleston’s society, Scarlett’s unconventional behavior only creates more rifts between her and Rhett.
The Good: Scarlett has a ridiculously powerful cast. Our leads Timothy Dalton and Joanne Whalley or Joanne Whalley-Kilmer as she was known then since she was Mrs. Batman (Or perhaps Mrs. Nick Rivers) back then. Can they hold a candle to Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable? Well, Joanne Whalley’s eyes are the wrong color, but she comes close. There is an argument that Timothy Dalton makes a better Rhett Butler than Clark Gable. I will not make that argument myself necessarily, but I am on the edge of being persuaded.
Some of the other casting seems a touch stunt such as Good Time’s Esther Rolle as Mammy. Other casting may be a touch more divisive (Ann Margaret) but few will argue that the first episode of the miniseries has a secret weapon. Jean Smart. Much as later episodes are greatly helped by the presence of Sean Bean, Jean Smart steals every scene she is in. A rare American presence in the film (even Pansy is played by Welsh actress Rakie Ayola) Jean Smart seems to simply belong in the film. Maybe it is all those years of Designing Women?
Plus Scarlett has Paul Winfield. And as we all know, no movie with Paul Winfield is all bad.
The Bad: Romance is a fine plot, but you need something else going on in the background. Gone with the Wind had a war. Scarlett does not. The plots in Gone with the Wind include the burning of Atlanta and possible loss of Tara, Rhett’s war profiteering, Scarlett’s then husband Frank Kennedy being killed and her “true love?” Ashley being wounded in a Ku Klux Klan raid. (If you are unfamiliar with the work, Frank and Ashley were the Klan in this raid, not the victims) Not to mention a dead child. Two living children (who I am not sure are even mentioned in the sequel) and what three marriages for Scarlett? And as they say, a lot more. In all of this is her third marriage to Rhett Butler, who at this point is the only white man she knows not dead or broke.
Gone with the Wind is four hours long and like say The Godfather it rarely feels it. This first episode of Scarlett is ninety minutes, and it felt like four hours. They fight, they make up, they fight, they really make up. As a result, someone is pregnant (Not Rhett). They fight again and Scarlett leaves without telling Rhett her “condition”. There ninety minutes saved.
There are some subplots. Scarlett tries the whole fitting into society thing like it is a Regency romance. Scarlett O’Hara is one of the original not like other girls protagonists. Problem is, this plot only works if the characters themselves are invested. Scarlett seems more interested in torturing society ladies than fitting in with them.
The post-war scene is all over the map with Tara looking like hell, but other places such as Charleston pristine. There is little sense of time and place. This takes place right after the novel’s end, but it often feels like twenty years later.
The Ugly: Charleston does look pristine. I am sure one of the big selling points of the Scarlett miniseries were the beautiful costumes and shooting locations. And there is no question that location scout Edward Bowen and costume designer Marit Allen earned their pay and them some.
But if you are familiar with my Romance on the Orient Express review, you know where I am going with this. Romance on the Orient Express also had incredible scenery. Alas, it was a TV movie from 1985, so it was filmed in standard definition and a 4:3 ratio. On modern television sets, much of it looks as if it was filmed with a potato. Scarlett, a TV miniseries from 1994, suffers the same fate.
In Conclusion: I actually own Scarlett. (My late wife bought in on a lark). So I have seen the entire miniseries before. I do recall it getting better later on as an unhinged Sean Bean enters the scene, chewing the Irish countryside, raping everything in a skirt, and kicking puppies.
I barely made it through this episode, however. Like I say above, the acting is excellent. But between the needlepoint opening credits and everything looking dull, I was not looking forward to another four and a half hours. This is not helped by the character of Scarlett. Scarlett is the kind of woman you might take to the ball (or just ball), but at six hours it feels like a marriage. I think Ashely Wiles and Rhett Butler are right about her.