SNARK WEEK RECAP: North & South (1985), Episode 1

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Because I live to entertain, and because I make bad life choices, I have decided to recap 1985’s Civil War classic, North and South. Look for a new episode recap each day of Snark Week, and enjoy the frosted lipstick!

We begin on a plantation in South Carolina, 1842. Two REALLY ANNOYING little girls are dressed in frilly dresses, holding hands and skipping the way no real human beings have ever done. Oh, and they’re skipping through the slave cabins, what fun!

North and South (1985)

The brunette is a bitch. I’d be bitchy too if I had to wear that fugly yellow dress.

Turns out their Big Brother, Patrick Swayze, is the son of this planter family and is headed to West Point for military school. He won’t even get any leave for two years. Swayze’s hair is the fluffiest mullet you’ve ever seen, and he is ROCKING the poly-baroque-satin PEACH CRAVAT. CRAVATS. SHOULD NOT BE PEACH-COLORED. UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

Mom is polite to a house slave. Clearly we are Good Southerners.

North and South (1985)

Mom also is rocking the Nylon Lace Shower Cap.

North and South (1985)

A slightly clearer image of the fam…

North and South (1985)

This family is VERY CLOSE.

Swayze runs into a Southern belle whose carriage has overturned, because either she or her driver are an idiot and are running their horses at breakneck speed. Meet “Tits Out” (Madeline), played by Lesley-Anne Down. Swayze is mesmerized by her beauty and charm. I am mesmerized by her inappropriate cleavage, frosty makeup, and attempts to portray a charmingly sweet 16-25ish-year-old when the actress is every inch 31. Tits Out is accompanied by her governess-type attendant, free woman of color Maum Sally. They’ve just moved to Charleston from New Or-leahns but are visiting a family in the neighborhood.

North and South (1985)

Tits has got an impressive amount of cleavage for a young unmarried woman. Notice her hair, which isn’t perfect but at least is styled (although whoever put that ribbon in her hair wasn’t trying very hard)… for now.

North and South 1985

Tits’ schizophrenic dress…

Because I like keeping one toe in reality, here’s an 1840 fashion plate showing the look of the period:

Going out of style is the center/blue lady, with all the ruffles. Coming into style is the more tailored lady on the right. Note how much more streamlined the man’s ensemble is as well | Fashion plate, 1840, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Swayze offers Tits a ride to the plantation she’s supposed to visit. She divests herself of her ugly hat (because, of course, Southern ladies are TOTALLY into suntanning) and happily joins him for a snuggly ride. En route, they make out, and she gives him her handkerchief (not a euphemism).

North and South (1985)

Tits’ bodice does not match her skirt, which is a total no-no by 1840s standards. This is waaaaay before (white) blouses and colored skirts come into fashion, and even then, there’s nothing blouse-y about this top.

Let’s look at early 1840s hair:

Moritz Michael Daffinger, Miniature of Aleksandra Potocka, 1840, National Museum in Warsaw.

Going out of style is center parted, ringlets around the face | Moritz Michael Daffinger, Miniature of Aleksandra Potocka, 1840, National Museum in Warsaw.

Much more fashionable would be center parted, smoothed down over the ears. Both styles would have a bun in back | Franz Xavier Winterhalter, Queen Victoria, c. 1840, Library and Archives Canada.

Swayze takes Tits to her father, who is a low-rent Ricardo Montalban. They’re visiting a planter played by David Carradine, and his thinning hair and 1970s lapels tell me he’s no good.

North and South (1985)

SO MUCH poly-baroque satin was used in the making of these cravats.

Swayze ends up in New York City and is all “aw shucks gee!” at how big and impressive it is. He suddenly has a trunk that he hadn’t had during all the Tits shenanigans, and ends up in a fight with some Irish hustlers who want him to pay them to carry his trunk. Pennsylvania boy George Hazard pulls up all jaunty with hooooors in tow, then jumps into Swayze’s fight. The two begin a Serious Bromance, which involves some polite discussion about slavery — Swayze claims “some of us” are more progressive, but doesn’t disavow the institution.

North and South (1985)

I guess we can tell they’re HOOOOORS because they have slightly more makeup and cleavage than Tits does? And a bit more red?

At David Carradine’s plantation, Low Rent Ricardo Montalban is on the poly-baroque satin, peach cravat train, thus making me question my life choices. Tits joins in, wearing her own peach-colored poly-baroque satin stripey dress with puffed sleeves, cleavage, and lipstick to match. HER HAIR has gone from faux-mid-Victorian to full tilt, teased Dynasty level 1980s perm.

Oh, people talk about the issue of annexing Texas as a slave state and the possibility of war with Mexico. Low Rent Ricardo Montalban has ALWAYS encouraged his daughter to read and have her own opinions.

North and South (1985)

IT’S A PEACH ACETATE SATIN FIESTA

Swayze and George show up at West Point. Nearly every possible soldier-y drill is happening. They are impressed but nervous about hazing.

North and South (1985)

Swayze is not a hat fan. Might de-fluff his mullet.

It’s time for Tits and Papa to head to Charleston, but not before David Carradine has more time to ooze over Tits. She’s apparently gotten extensions, because no perm straightens out to THAT long of a braid. I actually kind of like her riding habit, minus the whole inappropriate-cleavage thing. Oh, and the fact that NONE of the women’s dresses in this episode in any way read as 1840. It’s all much more general-mid-Victorian, maybe 1850s or 60s, although at least there’s no hoops (as there shouldn’t be yet). We learn that Carradine beats his slaves, which must mean he’s a Bad Southerner.

North and South (1985)

I’m also not too sure about the whole bright-purple for a riding habit…

North and South (1985)

Tits does this really annoying thing with her lips when she speaks or smiles. Which is far too frequently.

For comparison, an 1841 riding habit. Note chemisette hiding ye olde tits | Fashion plate, 1841, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Back at West Point, our boys are being trained by Cadet Bent, who is from Geor-juh and Southern up to HEAH. He doesn’t seem to like anybody, but particularly is harsh on dorky northern farmer Fisk, who is VERY out and proud in being anti-slavery — but not for moral reasons, because slave labor is cheaper and so his father’s farm is always barely squeaking by. Bent gets all sadistic, making Swayze and George do some kind of hazing exercise that involves goose-stepping while holding buckets of water.

North and South (1985)

Back in the dorm, Swayze writes to Tits, using this tender moment to get his shirt off and his hair extra fluffy.

North and South (1985)

“Dear Tits, I wrote this letter by applying ink to my nipple…”

In Charleston, Tits is all a-twitter at getting a letter from Swayze. Once again, her hair (and lipstick) is full Dynasty. Maum Sally is actually semi-decently dressed, although again, there’s nothing terribly 1840s about the style lines on anybody’s dresses.

North and South (1985)

“Dear Tits, I have enclosed the case of AquaNet that you requested…”

Back at West Point, Bent keeps picking on Fisk, but Swayze shows him via a super dorky saber fight that Swayze wins. Bent is humiliated, and is excited to catch Swayze and George out drinking at the local tavern. He chases them, falls through some ice, and Swayze rescues him. But Bent continues to be a jerk, making Swayze do guard duty in the snow despite being sick. Luckily insert-rank Grant (as in, Ulysses) steps in on Swayze’s side.

North and South (1985) North and South (1985)

Tits is sad! Swayze has stopped returning her letters! Maybe it’s because she can’t seem to put her tits away, or dress in any way in 1840s-style fashion? Maum Sally tries to comfort her. David Carradine visits and brings her a cheesy unicorn music box.

North and South (1985)

At least she’s got nylon curtain fabric and blue eyeshadow to comfort herself with?

It’s 1842 and our boys have finally gotten leave! George takes Swayze to visit his family and their ironworks in Pennsylvania. We meet George’s family, including sister VIRGILIA, a name that doesn’t even need a nickname because it inherently sounds like a venereal disease. She’s played by Kirstie Alley, who is wearing a shitty acetate taffeta dress with her own tits out, and frizzy, frizzy hair that is essentially the same style she wore on Cheers.

VIRGILIA (all caps, because it’s such a bad name) is reading all that abolitionist literature. She asks Swayze if he’s evil.

North and South (1985)

Brother is played by Jonathan Frakes, aka Riker from Star Trek. I kind of like mom’s dress, because, pink and black!

North and South (1985)

Two-fabric dresses: no. Super low neckline for day: no. Woman in her 30s with her hair down: no.

North and South (1985)

A slightly clearer overall shot.

George takes Swayze to tour the ironworks, because Swayze is all fired up to modernize his plantation and install a cotton mill. There’s a lot of pointed discussion about slavery, and how the way the northerners treat their workers is not that different from the way southerners treat their slaves.

At dinner, some random floozy wearing plastic cameo jewelry is waaaaay into Swayze, being all excited about passing the salt and pepper.

North and South (1985)

There is a LOT of elastic keeping her boobs from fully popping out.

Kirstie Alley would have been about 34 when this was filmed, and just like Tits, reads as waaaaay too old to wear her hair down. She’s clearly on the comb-your-hair-100-times-so-it’s-extra-frizzy bandwagon. Also, the nude-toned, spackle-applied makeup bandwagon. She makes a giant statement against slavery, and stalks away from the table.

North and South (1985)

There is no way this woman is under 30.

Swayze has been sad because Tits stopped answering his letters. He stops by her house in Charleston, but nobody is home. So he heads home for a visit.

North and South (1985)

His annoying sisters haven’t grown at all in two years. I am the only one to seem concerned about this.

Swayze finds out that the new overseer has started whipping the slaves. He tells off the overseer.North and South (1985)

Swayze’s family has been invited to a wedding! Dun dun DUNNNNNN — Tits is marrying David Carradine! She’s wearing some Gunne Sax I-don’t-know-what-the-fuck, including the world’s ugliest veil. There’s a ridiculous dramatic moment where she and Carradine turn around mid-wedding ceremony to watch Swayze ride up on his horse.

North and South (1985)

This does make me understand 1980s bridal fashions SO much more than I did previously.

Embed from Getty Images

For comparison, a wedding dress (center) | Fashion plate, c. 1842, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There haven’t been a ton of extras so far, but they’ve been decently dressed. Until now. Now we know where all those early 1980s bridesmaid’s dresses ended up.

North and South (1985)

I particularly liked the tan line on the woman in the middle pic. Note Swayze’s mom’s dress isn’t half bad.

Swayze and his fluffy hair are about to leave, but Tits confronts him about why he stopped writing to her. She realizes that her father must have destroyed both of their letters. It’s all VERY TRAGIC, but not as tragic as that fugly-assed sheer/lace neckline fill-in.

North and South (1985)

THE HAIR. THE MAKEUP.

On the wedding night, David Carradine rapes Tits. Apparently it’s incredibly easy to rip open a structured, boned bodice, who knew? Oh, no chemise or corset underneath, natch. Once he’s asleep, Tits puts on the SHINIEST plastic-metal-thread-accented lace dressing gown to have ever existed, and contemplates her fate.

North and South (1985)

THAT FABRIC. IS IN NO WAY A NATURAL FIBER.

Dear god, why did I sign up for this?

 

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65 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    I loath Civil War shows, except for Mercy Street & Gone With the Wind.
    The costumes here are soo awful that Jon Rhys Meyers would feel at home. My advice is to avoid this at all costs. Watch Jane Austen series/movies instead. Or Wives and Daughters, Barchester, Pallisers.

    Reply
  2. Rori

    Oh man, the clothing. The make up. The HAIR. It’s like Greace mixed with Amadeus attempt to rip off Gone with the Wind.

    Reply
  3. CTrent29

    I’m a big fan of the “NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy. Actually, I’m a bigger fan of it than I am of “GONE WITH THE WIND”. So I won’t be following this coverage of it.

    The costumes for it may not have been perfect. Then again, I can say the same for the 1939 film.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      Of course, we all have our cheesy faves! In fact I recently did a post about “top 5 cheesy frock flicks I have secretly loved”! :)

      Reply
      • Sarah Lorraine

        Hell, some of the stuff we snark brutally are the very same shows we love the most. Doesn’t mean you can’t still call a spade a spade while still enjoying something. Wait until you read my Juana Ines post tomorrow… It’s all about enjoying a show while at the same time acknowledging that the costumes were spectacularly bad.

        Reply
  4. Jamie Jo

    I got a crush on Patrick from this show back in the day. the ONLY things worse than the costuming are the accents, and the wigs. young Ashtons wigs are horrific aliens attempting to eat her brain. Genie Francis’ accent set back North and South relations for DECADES. it’s worse than Sandy Dennis’s. oh the horror! I think this show used up Hollywoods supply of poly satin for a few months.

    Reply
  5. Nzie

    I actually watched this as a tween; it was aired on TV mid/late 90s during my Civil War history obsession phase. Thankfully I don’t remember most of it. The costumes were never good, but this review also lays bare some serious issues (not beating people ≠ good person, esp. when you still own the people you’re not beating).

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Gawd, the ‘feel good’ Southerner thing, just bec. you’re not actually whipping slaves, even tho’ you still own them. Fuuuuuck. It’s as fakey as the poly baroque satin!

      Reply
      • Nzie

        So many thoughts on this topic that I could write way too much but basically it just shows how societies corrupted by evil systems end up placing a finger on the scale of all sorts of evils. Sure, it’s better for owners not to beat their slaves, but once you compare to “bad” owners it’s so easy to view one as abusive and the other not, but the whole system is abusive. It’s really insidious. I felt like 12 Years a Slave was a powerful antidote to this in a lot of ways. Even the “nice” owner let Solomon be tortured by his overseer, and sold a woman off rather than face her grief over the children he separated her from.

        Reply
        • Kendra

          Agreed. It’s important to show the range of experiences, but it’s a sliding scale of morality and nobody comes out looking good. Honestly I’d be more okay with them trying to show “not every slave owner was an abusive asshole” if they gave any African Americans more of a role in this production (and yes, I am mid-way through the series so I have seen their lame attempt at doing so).

          Reply
          • ctrent29

            They did. There were characters like Semiramis, Cuffey (whose role grew bigger in Book II), Maum Sally, Ezra, Issac, Jane and Magic Magee.

            Reply
  6. Donnalee

    I LOVE to read this review, even though I am not at all into the time period. The bosoms are lovely, as is everyone being decades and decades younger than I remember them ever being, even when this first came out. Guess it’s because looking back, I am decades older.

    This review cracks me up bigtime. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Catherine

    I straight up laughed at some of that make-up. That and the hair really date this, which you’ve noted in the past. I’m a child of the 90s, so 80s hair and make-up are the worst for me.

    Reply
  8. Sarah Lorraine

    I’m a huge Kirstie Alley fan, and always felt that she was one of those women that looked perpetually 34. Like, she could have been 16 and looked 34. Gorgeous, to be sure, but never looked anything younger than 34.

    Of course, I feel that way about a lot of women who were famous actresses in the 80s. Why do they all look 34???

    Reply
  9. Sharon

    I will never be able to think of or see Lesley Anne Downe again without thinking “tits” you have made my evening x

    Reply
  10. administrator

    I lived through half of the first night of it when it played on ABC in college. While I honestly don’t think I had much clue at the time about the costumes, the apologetics for the Confederate cause was more than I could take. I told my roommate she’d be on her own if she insisted on watching it any further. She did, I spent a couple of good nights in the library and ditched her for a happy second semester in Italy, far from the polyester (and I never spoke with that roommate again). Sadly, the racist sentiment has spread since this awful miniseries (or its sequels)–as seen in Charlottesville, this summer. God help you, Kendra and all the actors trapped in this horror. I would not will that shit on any friend.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      It’s really going after everything with the broadest of strokes, which just ends up obscuring the real pain of the true history. Painting abolitionists as 100% embracing African Americans is just as untrue as the idea that if you were nice to your slave, it really wasn’t that bad of a system.

      Reply
  11. MrsC (Maryanne)

    I have all the feels for Lesley Ann Downs. She is a decent English actress with “page 3 assets” and the common sense to put her scruples about poly satin aside in favour of a comfortable retirement.

    Reply
  12. ladylavinia1932

    So, you’re snarking on “North and South” huh? Pity. It’s actually a lot better than people are willing to admit. I like how the production is willing to be so openly critical of slavery and racism, despite the fact that a good number of its main characters are Southern slave owners. I also like how it portrays the antebellum period of the 1840s and 1850s with a depth that is rare in many movie and television productions.

    It’s funny. The production been bashed by many for its melodrama, yet stories by many other authors – including Charles Dickens and Margaret Mitchell – are brimming with over-the-top melodrama. Yet, their stories are rarely criticized for this. As for the costumes . . . well, I’ve already pointed this out in another post that some of the costumes are questionable and some of them are quite good.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      I’m recapping, which means you get to read my personal thoughts on the production. You get to have your own thoughts on it, too! That’s the joy of being individuals. And if you decide to read each recap, you’ll see that I will certainly point out when they do things right, costume-wise.

      Reply
    • Dora H*ckin K. (@omg_dora)

      How is it special to be “openly critical of slavery” in 1985. Was the mainstream in 1985 pro slavery? On the contrary, by portraying some Southern slave owners as “nice” because they are critical of slavery, while neglecting to give actual black people significant screen time, the show is being remarkably dense and disrespectful. As if the Civil War was this tragic misunderstanding between two groups of mostly-nice white Americans — a war in which black people had no role except as an issue.

      Also, if anything, I think Kendra was too easy on some of the costumes.

      Reply
      • Kendra

        Thanks, you said this perfectly: “As if the Civil War was this tragic misunderstanding between two groups of mostly-nice white Americans — a war in which black people had no role except as an issue.”

        Reply
        • minette

          Accurate and balanced portrayal of southern slave owner’s mentality is difficult to pull off when your “heroes” are from families of southern plantationers which were, indeed, the biggest slave owners. And the show seems way too dumb for that. I guess we should leave it on that and apply MST3K mantra?

          Reply
          • ladylavinia1932

            I see that none of you really understood Jakes’ trilogy at all. You seemed to be accusing it of being pro-slavery without actually saying it. WHY?

            The black characters in the “NORTH AND SOUTH” had no real issue in the narrative? Are you KIDDING ME? That’s your main complaint??? Did you even watch the trilogy, let alone read the novels?

            Reply
  13. Adam Lid

    Wow- they take a pretty craptastic period clothes-wise and make it even more craptastic…except for the cleavage thing…oh wait, I’m not the right demographic for that anymore.

    Reply
  14. ladylavinia1932

    Not all of the costumes are terrible. I really don’t understand this excessive criticism of it. It’s almost over-the-top to me.

    Reply
    • Brandon McKinney

      If by “Not all” you mean “the bodice neckline that MIGHT be actually kind of sort of correct” than I would agree with you. I actually saw ONE dress that was not half-bad but it was still really really REALLY off.

      Everyone has their own take. My take was just to be asking “WTH IS SHE WEARING?” With every screen cap that came up. I like accuracy. And the 1840s is the beginning of the period I particularly specialize my research in (1840-1875) so it bothers me immensely when I see it done wrong, because it’s a period I particularly like.

      Do I think the criticism can be unfair sometimes? Maybe. I don’t agree with Kendra’s (or was it Trystan’s? Sorry ladies!) critique of bonnets always looking derpy. I think a well-executed bonnet, with the correct shape, right weight of materials, and trimmings that’s correct can look AMAZING. But hey – I still love Frock Flicks. I don’t agree with them all the time either, but it’s OK.

      Reply
  15. Peacoclaur

    So many dinosaurs died to make this … whatever it is

    RIP Dinosuars – lest we forget.

    Reply
  16. Andrew Schroeder

    Between the miles of polyester, mountains of plastic jewels, and metric shit-tonne of empty hairspray cans that inevitably produced these hairstyles, this production may single-highhandedly be responsible for the climate crisis.

    Reply
  17. Amanda

    It’s a small thing, but the dreadful plastic bead edging on that monstrosity of a wedding veil cap (????) just hollers CHEAP to me. And I thought this was supposed to be a lavish production. Does anyone remember if this is the miniseries featured in an article in People back in the day in which the actress playing a brunette vixen (second generation maybe, since I don’t think it was TO) talked about how much bust padding was inflicted upon the actresses, so they would clown around on set and have pretend cat fights where they’d bounce off each other’s foam breasts? Can’t remember the actress’s name, but the image of that fake-bosom sumo has stuck with me over the years. :)

    Reply
    • Janette

      Not entirely. The BBC were making historically accurate series in those years though I feel that the heyday of the British costume drama was the 70s. I am currently watching a relatively low budget series from the late 70s which looks accurate to my eye, clearly using actual period lace, hair up and or covered, correct necklines, suitable fabrics..

      Reply
  18. Anne Foster

    Nobody looked like a teen in the 80s–we all looked 30 with the caked on makeup and frizztastic hair.

    Reply
  19. Janette

    Never seen this series but enjoying this immensely. Those costumes/hair/makeup are so so so terribly bad reflecting the respect, or lack of, Hollywood has for history. Sadly it is a lack of care that seems to be infectious..(thinking of last year’s War and Peace travesty)

    Reply
  20. Janette

    Oh and when it comes to snarking bad costumes in favourite series I would welcome a snark week item on the costumes in the other, North and South, (BBC) one of my favourite TV series which is marred for me by some of the costumes and historically jarring aspects of the script. Though those criticisms are indeed subtle in comparison.

    Reply
  21. Erica

    Great recap.

    I like how you mentioned Maum Sally and her style. I’ve seen many North and South discussions completely ignore Maum Sally and the other enslaved characters. Interestingly, I feel as if Maum Sally got some very accurate tignons. In that they were not always wrapped the same way and because of her privileged position as a favored FPOC she had fabric enough for tignons of multiple different colors.

    Reply
  22. Mr Elton

    So enjoying these posts! I wasted my early teens on being a Civil War-nerd thanks to this fab show. I even read the books and invested my birthday money in the video tapes. The story is of course cringeworthy and them gentlemen are wearing costumes that look nothing like the 1840s. But still… Whenever I hear the score it’s the 1980s again and I’m eleven…

    Reply
  23. A

    I know that in late-Victorian era riding habits were supposed to be black, with other dark colours (green, navy, brown, lighter grey for summer) as an option. Maybe in the 1840s they allowed more variety, but bright purple doesn’t seem right. It goes without saying that riding habits came up to the neck, but so did other daytime dresses, so whatever.

    The hair is awesome. No woman in the 1840s would be caught dead in it.

    I kind of like the blue-striped skirt of Madeline’s first dress, though. Not on her and not in this costume (which is all-round awful), but I like the fabric. I wouldn’t mind wearing it, in the shape of some other, non-historic dress. Assuming it’s not the terriblt 1980s polyester, that is.

    Reply
  24. Erin

    Hot damn, I love y’all SO MUCH. ::pauses to wipe streaming eyes, honk nose, measure the fluffiness of the Swayze mullet::

    Reply
  25. Hawke

    I remember watching this once, several years ago – I think I was in middle school? I was extremely feverish and drifted in and out of being asleep vs being awake. I wasn’t sure how much of what I remembered was real. Turns out it was an unfortunately large amount. I definitely thought it was set in the 1850s though, and had no idea it wasn’t until this post….

    Reply

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