Advertisement

Television Reviews : 'The Divided Union'

November 13, 1987|TERRY ATKINSON

Mathew Brady and other photographers captured the Civil War in still photographs that remain poignant and shocking to this day. But there were no movie or video cameras in the 1860s--a fact that has generally limited modern documentarists in portraying the North-South conflict as vividly as, say, World War II.

The producers of a new, five-part television series, "The Divided Union," have made a mighty effort to get around this problem. However, the inclusion of re-enacted battles and other elaborately staged scenes probably hurt more than help the documentary, whose first hour debuted Wednesday night on the Arts & Entertainment cable network.

It's easy to appreciate the great trouble associated with dressing hundreds of extras in authentic Civil War uniforms and getting the details right down to the last epaulet. But you're still likely to be more distracted than involved when these scenes repeatedly pop up during the five-hour production.

There's no real impression that these guys firing cannons and running up hills are anything more than used car salesmen and computer programmers out for an exciting, dress-up-in-old-clothes weekend.

As a result, it's the documentary-as-usual elements that work best in "The Divided Union"--the period photos and prints, the comments from approximately 50 historians and other experts. Even these portions of the series (which continues next Wednesday at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on A&E) are flawed, though: There aren't enough dates given. There are too few maps, and the ones we do get offer skimpy orientation--an unnecessary defect in the age of computer animation.

Despite its flaws, "The Divided Union" is worth watching for anyone who wants a basic, reasonably engaging overview of the entire, bitterly fought war. Even some Civil War buffs may learn a few new things about this deep wound in our country's history--one that's still unbelievable for its violence, and one which has never entirely healed.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|