‘1883’ and ‘The Power of the Dog’: True and False in the Old West

Sam Elliott, the veteran US western actor, recently created controversy when he publicly put the spurs into New Zealand director Jane Campion’s acclaimed film portrayal of a 1920s Montana cattle ranch, The Power of the Dog. Campion’s film was nominated in twelve categories at this year’s Academy Awards, the most of any film competing, but won only the Best Director award for Campion. Elliott said her depiction of shirtless cowboys in fluffy chaps reminded him of Chippendale dancers: “What the f*** does this woman from down there know about the American west? Why the f*** did she shoot this movie in New Zealand and call it Montana? And say this is the way it was?”

Further on, I’ll show how Campion rewrites Thomas Savage’s stunning 1967 novel, The Power of the Dog, introducing themes, and omitting others, to suit her own design. But first, back to Sam f****** Elliott! Elliott plays the role of wagon train boss Shea Brennan, in Taylor Sheridan’s latest western television series, 1883, a prequel to Sheridan’s other enormously popular western series, Yellowstone (reviewed in the April 2020 Quadrant).

1883 and The Power of the Dog represent polar opposite views of the American West.

The ten-part series 1883 is the story of the great-grandparents of contemporary ranching baron John Dutton III, and the pioneering of the Montana land that would later become the Yellowstone Ranch. It is written by Sheridan, who also directed the first episode, and distributed by Paramount Plus. Richard Roper of the Chicago SunTimes said 1883 “just might be the greatest western on TV since Lonesome Dove some 30 years ago”.

The series is also notable for the inspired casting of real-life couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, two of the most successful stars in American country music history, in the featured roles of James and Margaret Dutton. The series is narrated by the Duttons’ daughter, Elsa.

Civil War veteran and Pinkerton detective Shea Brennan (played by Elliott) has lost his entire family to smallpox and, in despair, has burned down his homestead with their dead bodies inside. Brennan had been a captain in the “Buffalo Soldiers” unit of the Union army, a division of African-American soldiers. He is talked out of killing himself by a black war buddy, Thomas. Together, in search of work, they travel to Fort Worth, Texas, where they meet James Dutton, who was a captain in the Confederate army and spent three years in a Union prisoner-of-war camp. The three men join forces to guide a wagon train of German and Russian immigrants across the untamed western states to Oregon. Dutton is travelling with his wife Margaret and their two children, his sister Claire, and her daughter Mary Abel.

On the trail, bandits attack the wagon train, murdering Mary Abel. Dutton and Brennan ride into Fort Worth and identify the men drinking in a bar, promptly killing them all. Claire, having now lost her seventh child, takes her own life.

Before the wagon train can leave Texas, the flooded Brazos River halts it. After a heated argument Brennan, the trail boss, orders the immigrants to jettison most of their heavy possessions so that the lighter-loaded wagons can survive the crossing. Despite precautions, several of the immigrants are swept away to their deaths.

Elsa Dutton, raised from childhood to be an expert horse rider, falls in love with one of the young cattle hands, Ennis. He is later killed in an encounter with prairie bandits.

The settlers have lost many wagons crossing the river and employ two Comanches to help guide them. One, Sam, becomes fascinated by Elsa and when she bests him in a friendly horse race, he nicknames her “Lightning Yellow Hair”.

A deadly tornado destroys most of the other wagons and scatters the cattle, leaving the remaining pioneers to travel in two wagons and on foot. The cattle have been captured by robbers, and Dutton and Brennan go after them. Pinned down in a firefight, they are rescued by their two Comanche guides, who flank the bandits and kill them all. Elsa falls in love with Sam and asks to stay behind with the Comanches, but her mother and father object.

The wagon train discovers a burned-out native Dakota camp that has been raided by thieves, disguised as sheriff’s deputies, while the men were out hunting. The women and children have been slaughtered and the returning Dakota warriors mistakenly believe that the wagon train was to blame. Elsa is caught in a crossfire and wounded in the side with a poison-tipped arrow. Her parents are advised by both an army doctor at a nearby fort, and a Comanche medicine man, that the arrow has punctured Elsa’s liver and the contaminated wound will soon be fatal. The Comanche chief tells Dutton of a secret piece of land in nearby Montana. Dutton decides that wherever his daughter dies, that’s where they will settle, so he rides with her to this location, where she dies. She is buried on the site of the future Yellowstone Ranch.

Sam Elliott, born in 1944, owns a 200-acre ranch in Oregon. He has been married to the actress Katharine Ross for almost forty years. For a decade, they have been supporters of the Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary, which rescues wild horses and burros in Central California.

Elliott’s controversial comments on The Power of the Dog have puzzled critics. One commented: “I like Sam Elliott, but someone probably needs to remind him he’s an actor from Sacramento who lives in Malibu, not an actual cowboy.”

Campion echoed this sentiment in an interview with Marc Malkin of Variety: “I’m sorry, he was being a little bit of a b-i-t-c-h [spelling it out in a whisper, as if reluctant to say the word aloud]. He’s not a cowboy, he’s an actor … I think [his comments are a] little bit sexist.” The novelist Annie Proulx, who wrote the afterword to the 2009 reprint of The Power of the Dog, also referred to its protagonist, Phil Burbank, as a “vicious bitch”. It’s revealing that both these women artists use the word bitch to describe men. It was originally the term for a female dog (at least it’s thematic!) but Kelsey Lueptow, on, writes:

If a woman calls herself a badass bitch, it is understood to be a gender-deviant association to strong femininity; if a man is called a bitch, it is understood as a gender-deviant [association to] weak masculinity. If you combine those two definitions, the message is that the strongest possible female is weaker than or equal to the weakest possible man. That is why calling a man a bitch displays internalized sexism.

Recently Campion made a sharp comment about the executive producers of the film King Richard—tennis champions Serena and Venus Williams. The film is about their father’s influence on their early careers. Campion said: “And you know, Serena and Venus, you are such marvels, however, you do not play against the guys … like I have to.” The uproar from African-Americans on social media was ferocious and the next day she had to apologise publicly.

Campion appears to be, once again, misinformed about American culture. The Power of the Dog is not a classic historical Western. It is an exquisitely made but subversive western-flavoured psychodrama—with a large serving of polemic. Proulx has said that the novel influenced her writing of Brokeback Mountain. But Guy Lodge of the Guardian wrote of the film: “The Power of the Dog proceeds as a morbid, cold-souled negative of Brokeback Mountain.” It is Jane Campion’s first feature film with a male protagonist.

Before I give a short synopsis of The Power of the Dog, consider this: a supposedly heterosexual New Zealand female director, and single mother, in her late sixties, seeks to accurately depict the world of homoerotically-repressed 1920s Montana cowboys, filming in New Zealand, with a self-written screenplay, adapted from a late 1960s novel, authored by a closeted homosexual writer, who was married to a woman for fifty years, had three children with her, and hated Montana. What could possibly go wrong?

In the town of Beech, Montana, in 1925, two successful ranchers, Phil Burbank and his younger brother George, are finishing a cattle drive. While in town, they meet a tavern-keeper and widow, Rose Gordon. George is attracted to her and they marry, moving onto the Burbank ranch. Phil instantly dislikes her and her son Peter, who Phil considers a sissy. Peter wants to be a doctor, like his late alcoholic father, and wears surgical gloves, dissecting rabbits, collecting butterflies and making paper flowers. Rose, isolated and continually the target of Phil’s disdain, starts drinking. Phil and his macho cowhands make fun of Peter’s “sissyness” but when Peter instantly spots the dog-rock formation in the nearby mountains that Phil’s mentor, the late “cowboy’s cowboy”, Bronco Henry, once pointed out to him—and which no one else on the ranch, including his brother George, has so far been able to see—Phil and Peter start to become friends. Or so it seems.

Phil is feeling the loss of the close relationship he once had with his brother now that he is married to Rose. Phil teaches Peter to ride a horse and promises to plait a lasso for him from leather strips. While out riding, Peter comes across a dead cow and cuts pieces of hide from it. Rose, while drunk, gives away Phil’s store of dried leather hides to Indian traders passing through. Phil becomes furious with her, as he no longer has enough material to finish the lasso, but Peter surprises him by making him a present of the hide he has harvested.

Phil stays up all night to finish Peter’s rope but in the morning falls ill from a mysteriously infected splinter wound he received earlier. George drives him to the doctor in town where he dies. When the cause of death is diagnosed as anthrax, George becomes confused, as he knows his brother was careful with dead animals. Peter does not attend the funeral. He discreetly stores his new lasso under his bed and reads a passage from the Order for the Burial of the Dead, Psalm 22:20: “Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.” As he watches his mother and George return from the funeral and embrace in the courtyard, there is a serene smile on his face.

Dame Jane Campion is the first woman to be nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Director, and the first female film-maker to be awarded the Cannes Palme d’Or (twice). Campion’s mother was an heiress and her father’s family belonged to the fundamentalist Christian Exclusive Brethren. Campion attended art schools, intending to be a painter—Frida Kahlo was a strong influence—but, according to Kathleen McHugh, in her book Contemporary Film Directors, Campion’s “dissatisfaction with the limitations of painting” led her to film-making. (I didn’t know painting had any limitations; I thought that only applied to painters.)

H.J. Wilmot Buxton says:

The Bible does not generally speak well of dogs. The word dog in the Scriptures often means a wicked person. When he says, “Deliver my darling from the power of the dog,” it is a prayer that God would deliver His only Son from the hands of wicked men. In Eastern countries dogs are reckoned as unclean animals, and there if you want to give a man a bad name you call him a dog. 

Sam Elliott complained about The Power of the Dog to podcaster Marc Maron:

Where’s the western in this western? I mean, Cumberbatch never got out of his f****** chaps. He had two pairs of chaps—a woolly pair and a leather pair. And every f****** time he would walk in from somewhere—he never was on a horse—he’d walk into the f****** house, storm up the f****** stairs, go lay in his bed in his chaps and play the banjo.

Michael Starr of the New York Post said of 1883: “If I have a minor quibble, it’s with … the liberal use of profanity, particularly the f-bomb which, to me, strikes a discordant note in a historical period piece.” I hope Starr doesn’t want us to believe that a “liberal use of profanity” wasn’t part of the Old West!

Campion’s film reminds me of the surreal and highly stylised way the playwright Sam Shepard re-imagined the American West, in The Buried Child, for example. With its weathered sets, New Zealand mountain ranges and campy cowboy outfits and chaps (compared to the authentic period locations and costume design of 1883), The Power of the Dog resembles more a Chekhov or Pinter play.

Benedict Cumberbatch referred to Elliott’s blue comments as “odd” and responded: “The more we look under the hood of toxic masculinity and try to discover the root causes of it, the bigger chances we have of dealing with it when it arises with our children.” For Cumberbatch to drag out that woke term “toxic masculinity” to describe the complexities of early-twentieth-century ranching life is as absurd as to use it to describe the behaviour of soldiers during wartime. In any case, the term didn’t exist in 1967, when the novel was written. It’s meaningless in any historical context. He would like to shoehorn Savage’s late-1960s story into a neo-western—viewing the inner landscape of the Old West through the prism of contemporary cultural values—but it doesn’t fit. Owen Gleiberman wrote in Variety:

Campion has made a movie whose dramatic upshot is to denounce homophobia—an unassailable message. But maybe, at this point, not a revelatory one … [Burbank], played by Cumberbatch as a drawling cowboy monomaniac with a mean leer that makes him seem at times like an evil Dennis Quaid, is a haughty macho customer who rolls his own cigarettes, [and] taunts his brother by calling him “Fatso” …

The story is not so much about denouncing homophobia, as Gleiberman suggests, but more about the oppressiveness of bullying—Phil bullies his brother, then Peter and finally Rose—with a strong emphasis on classic cowboy “manliness”. The key insult directed at Peter is “sissy”, which is not a homosexual reference. Gleiberman also refers to the lasso that Phil is making for Peter as a “phallic rodeo braid”! Yikes! I can just see Freud scribbling on his pad.

Campion told Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times: “I felt sick about not shooting [in Montana]; it was my idea for a long time, but then budget reality hit.” Apparently, there were no ranch locations or towns in Montana that retained anything resembling the period. They had to build their own homestead, and a town, from scratch and this was more practically done in New Zealand.

I would question, however, why Campion, with production companies in five different countries, couldn’t have found the finance to build the set somewhere in Montana. She found the enormous amounts of money required to hire A-list actors Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst. Why skimp on such an important component?

Annie Proulx, in her afterword to the novel, says that The Power of the Dog comes from:

[the] Golden Age of Landscape Fiction … [where] landscape is used not just as a decorative background but to drive the story and control the characters’ lives, as in the work of … Faulkner … Steinbeck and nearly all that Hemingway writes, all resonant with the sense-of-place …

Shooting the film in Montana would have removed some of the criticism of the film’s inauthenticity and certainly endeared it more to the locals there.

A few critics have commented that Sam Elliott has obviously forgotten about Sergio Leone’s cowboy films with Clint Eastwood, which came to be known as “spaghetti westerns” as they were shot in Italy and Spain. Maybe, in future, American westerns shot in New Zealand will come to be known as “nervous sheep westerns”.

Campion (left) was not the first to see the potential in Savage’s story. It was French actor Gérard Depardieu’s favourite novel and there had been five unsuccessful film options on the book.         

Thomas Savage (1915–2003) was an American novelist married to Elizabeth Savage, also a well-known author, for fifty years, even though he was homosexual and she knew it when she married him. She believed she could “cure” him. (But for fifty years?) They had three children but he continued to have sexual relations with men while he was married. Still, the dedication in The Power of the Dog is: “For My Wife”.

Savage hated Montana, the western state where he was raised, and left it forever as soon as he could. He was brought up under his stepfather’s name, Brenner, but in 1944 took his birth father’s name. Coincidentally, his childhood name echoes Sam Elliott’s character name in 1883—Brennan.

Alan Weltzien, in an article for Western Writers Online, suggests that, in later years, Savage had a “love-hate relationship with his ranch roots”. His roots were certainly a rich source of autobiographical material for Savage, who drew from them in a dozen novels, reclaiming his traumatic past.

So how has Campion gone off track in adapting Savage’s novel for the screen? In quite a few ways—the most obvious being the way she magnifies the extremely subtle, bordering on non-existent, homoerotic undertone of the book.

Phil’s stroking-the-saddle leather fetish, Peter suggestively straddling Bronco Henry’s saddle in the barn while talking to Phil, Phil’s story about how he and Henry lay body-against-body in a bedroll and how that saved him from freezing to death—to which Peter coyly asks, “Naked?” And even Peter erotically holding his cigarette up to Phil’s lips—sharing a smoke, back and forth: none of these things appear in the book.

Other significant variances: in the novel, there are no men’s magazines, with titles like Physical Culture: Weakness is a Crime – Don’t Be a Criminal, pictures of naked body-builders and Bronco Henry’s name scrawled on the covers. The film suggests that these magazines were originally Bronco Henry’s collection and that he was a repressed homosexual. None of this rubbish is in the novel. And, in any case, even in Campion’s film, only two of the three magazines that Peter stumbles on feature naked men—one of them, Art Reviews, has a naked woman on the cover. So does that make these cowpokes bisexual?

There is a single mention in the book of possibly this kind of thing, where the brothers imagine how their mother might have reacted had she discovered their “naughty” magazines: “[They] read the magazines the Old Lady would have had heart failure about, some of it pretty hot stuff. They must have been twelve or fourteen then.” The sole reference to these magazines is not gender-specific and also indicates that George, an obvious heterosexual, also read them.

In the novel, there are no creek-bathing scenes with groups of naked men, no shirtless ranch hands in Chippendale chaps, lying around playing guitar, and no Phil Burbank masturbation scene, with what appears to be the cloth Phil uses for polishing Bronco Henry’s saddle, at the secret waterhole.

Even the waterhole wasn’t exclusively Phil’s private place—it had also been shared with his brother George and before that, it was Bronco Henry’s. The waterhole was simply a private pool where each man could spend time alone. In the novel Savage says, “Never had the brothers appeared naked before each other”, so they wouldn’t even have gone to the swimming hole together.

The first twelve of the fourteen chapters make no reference to anything that could be interpreted as homoerotic. They do focus on bullying and the grit it takes to be a “man”—a “sissy” or “Miss Nancy” being the opposite of a “real” man.

Phil wasn’t a Phi Beta Kappa, majoring in Classics at Yale, as depicted in the movie, but only graduated from an unspecified Californian university, from which George flunked out. In fact, Phil, disgusted that the organisation would only invite him to be a member because of his money, walked out of his fraternity interview. Finally, the closing scene of Peter holding the fatal lasso in his gloved hands and slipping it under his bed doesn’t appear in the book.

What is much clearer in the novel, however, is that Peter had a plan early on to find an infected animal to use to get rid of Phil. But what was his original plan? When he cut the strips from the dead cow, Rose hadn’t yet given Phil’s hides away, so why would Phil have used Peter’s hide—when Phil had yards of his own seasoned hide? Perhaps Peter had some other idea but none of this is clarified in the film, or the book.

When the novel was published in 1967, only one anonymous reviewer, from Publisher’s Weekly, mentioned the sexual overtones that just about every critic today is harping on about: “While Phil is plotting a homosexual involvement with the boy, young Peter is plotting a diabolically clever revenge on him that is pretty chilling.” This is completely bonkers. Phil’s motivation in befriending Peter was to put a wedge between the son and mother, driving her further into alcoholism until his brother George abandoned her. It was not about “plotting a homosexual involvement”. Yet Annie Proulx suggests this anonymous reviewer was the only one at the time who really understood the true nature of Savage’s story!

In her afterword, she also writes of “Phil Burbank’s satisfying ghastly end”. Satisfying? Burbank was a bully, true, but he never murdered anyone. He wasn’t a thief or conman. He didn’t beat or rape women. He hated drunkenness. He got in an altercation with Peter’s alcoholic father, but he didn’t even punch him, just pushed and humiliated him. Yet for Proulx, murdering Burbank with anthrax is justice—and “satisfying”. And she has the nerve to call him a “vicious bitch”. I sure wouldn’t want to get on her bad side.

Phil’s brother, George, is to blame here for this domestic mess as well. He brings his new vulnerable wife into his household and leaves her alone with a brother who hates her. George refuses to defy Phil’s disrespect. George was no pushover. He was also a seasoned rancher. A real cowboy would have flattened Phil for insulting his wife. Perhaps George and Rose should have built their own house. He was certainly rich enough. It makes no sense that they would still live with Phil when he behaved so badly.

Campion has also sanitised the story by completely omitting the anti-Semitism of Burbank’s character. Phil Burbank, from page three onwards, is continually complaining about “wandering Jews” and “shysters”. He says:

The hides they bought here and there for that price they sold for twice, and made fortunes, some of them. Jews, all of them Jews after hides, Jews after junk, Jews with the eye for the quick buck, bargaining for rusty iron, mowing machine frames, rake frames, lengths of pipe, and so forth that collects on a ranch; but rather than sell to these shysters, Phil let the junk collect and the hides dry and shrink on the fence until he got around to the burning. Phil had nothing against the right kind of Jews, Jews of intellect and talent, so long as he didn’t have to mix with them. But lord, these others.

Rose does not give Phil’s hides to a travelling Native American in an act of kindness, as in the film, but sells them to a travelling Jew for thirty dollars (also referencing “thirty pieces of silver”). Savage describes the trader: “He wore a dark business suit, a dark, rather wide felt hat and a beard that recalled prophets. Across his vest was stretched a gold chain.”

Why would Campion alter the novel this way? Perhaps she feared that portraying Jews as Savage did would be too controversial in today’s woke Hollywood. But she obviously didn’t mind exaggerating cowboys as repressed homosexuals. (She only has to deal with Sam Elliott that way!)

I’m certain that Thomas Savage would not have liked Campion’s script and would possibly have refused permission for his book to be filmed this way. He was very strong-willed about this story. The novel was published in 1967 by Little, Brown, after a previous heavyweight publisher, Random House, had originally accepted it, but then asked for changes that Savage refused to make.

Savage captures wonderful detail in his prose. For instance, this description of Rose’s tavern: “A small hotel of six small identical rooms on the second floor, each with an iron bed, washstand, closet, and neat coiled rope beside each window in case of fire”, or Phil Burton sitting down to his dinner there: “‘I’m so hungry,’ he remarked, ‘that my big gut is eating my little gut. [He] … leaned forward to enjoy his chicken [and] was bound to admit it was good, but maybe because of hunger sauce.” And this penetrating look at George Burbank:

George … never used a bookmark or turned down the page of a book because he could remember the number of the page he stopped on, a curious mechanical knowledge, a mathematical memory that many such people are said to have. Phil thought it was because George’s mind was slower than his own that George could remember so.

Laura Williams-Burke, on, believes the best antidote against “woke” culture is sincere apology:

Within the cancel culture cycle, everyone has a chance for redemption … until individuals that are in the wrong begin to apologize and show genuine remorse, people will keep getting cancelled … yes, the woke mob will come for you. But they’ll give you a bucket to put the fire out if you so choose.

Pretty decent of them. She also added, “Do I expect Sam Elliott to apologize? Not at all.” Well, Elliott has apologised for his comments. On Deadline Hollywood he reminded everyone that the program he originally appeared on, Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, encouraged that kind of language by the very nature of its name. Elliott said:

[The Power of the Dog] struck a chord with me, and in trying to tell the “WTF” guy how I felt about the film, I wasn’t very articulate about it … I said some things that hurt people, and I feel terrible about that. The gay community has been incredible to me my entire career, and I mean my entire career … Friends on every level, in every job description, up until today, my agent, my dear friend, my agent for a number of years. I’m sorry that I hurt any of those friends, and someone that I loved, and anyone else, by the words that I used. I also told this “WTF” podcaster that I thought Jane Campion was a brilliant director. And I want to apologize to the cast of The Power of the Dog, brilliant actors all, in particular Benedict Cumberbatch. I can only say that I’m sorry, and I am.

Tellingly enough, the only one who hasn’t apologised, in this slanging match, for her own sexist and insulting remarks has been Jane Campion.

Elliott (right) said to Maron that he also objected to The Power of the Dog’s “myth” that American cowboys were “macho men out there with cattle”:

I just came from Texas where I was hanging out with families—not men—but families. Big, long, extended, multiple-generation families that made their livings … and their lives were all about being cowboys.

Very much like Sheridan’s vast multi-generational 1883/Yellowstone saga.

Liam Mathews of TV Guide writes that 1883 “has that purplish macho Taylor Sheridan dialogue that’s harsh and philosophical at the same time … no one else writes dialogue like him, and he builds an entrancing world with it”. Michael Starr said, “Casting Sam Elliott as Brennan was a feather in Sheridan’s cap—you just look at him and think: ‘Old West’.” Joshua Alston of Variety said, “Elliott lend[s] natural authenticity and gravitas with his weathered mien and marble-mouthed delivery.” Elliott’s cowboys are earthy—not woke. They are cut from the cloth of earlier times. He remarked not long ago, “Everywhere you look, people are looking at their hands, and in restaurants, it’s like you’re sitting in a patch of jack-o’-lanterns because everyone’s face is lit up by their phone. Nobody’s relating to each other.”

Whereas Elliott, as Shea Brennan, is the core male elder of 1883 (much like Kevin Costner’s John Dutton in Yellowstone), it is Elsa Dutton, through her intimate voice-over narrative, who is the spiritual centre of 1883. Many of her reflections approach poetry:

I remember stories of the Great War, how it seemed man had lost all reason. That we’d become animals, or perhaps we just surrendered to the fact that animals [are] all we’ve ever been. But there are moments where I feel we are more. Where we have evolved beyond a search for the next meal … where we breathe fresh air deep and almost taste its Maker.

One of the most profound and moving themes of 1883 isn’t just the hardship of pioneering, but the manner in which parents cope with the loss of grown children, which occurs twice in the series. Initially, it is James Dutton’s sister Claire’s daughter, Mary Abel—the seventh she had to “put in the dirt”.

The death of Elsa occurs in the final episode. She was the beautiful golden ray of light who saw the world as though for the first time, anew and brilliant. Her soft narration guided us through their difficult journey. Her parents knew she would die of her arrow wound before she knew it, but they had to remain stoic and give her hope and love. When her mother said farewell to her—while she was still very much alive, in order for her father to take her quickly to the land she wanted to die on—it was heartbreaking. What kind of toll does that take on a mother? Every family understands this kind of tragedy.

My partner and I suffered the loss of her youngest and wondrous grown daughter during the writing of this article. One day she was fine and full of vitality with her unique vision for the future. No illness. No indication of what was to come. The next moment, an unthinkable phone call in the middle of the night—she had fallen into a coma, with no hope of resuscitation. There was no chance to say goodbye.

1883 is a compelling origin story of how the Dutton family pioneered their Montana land in the nineteenth century. There will not be a second season but another prequel series, 1932, will connect, fifty years later, to a middle generation of Duttons, during the Depression and Prohibition years.

10 thoughts on “‘1883’ and ‘The Power of the Dog’: True and False in the Old West

  • Tom Lewis says:

    We got halfway through The Power of the Dog and turned it off.

  • Lawriewal says:

    Yeah Tom -we did likewise too.

  • rosross says:

    We got about a third of the way into Power of the Dog and turned it off. Breathtakingly bad and boring. It won awards because the Wokerati love gay stuff.

  • rachaelkohn says:

    We wasted 40 minutes on Power of the Dog…it seemed so contrived, had some annoying anachronistic details, was singularly unconvincing as a representation of Montana 1925, and was boring ‘to boot’.I thought Phil had absolutely no charisma (villains always have some allure) George was seriously under-imagined, thee boy Peter was an anorexic weakling and the whole film just flagged and flagged with endless depictions of cold weak mostly mute men, and so cannot understand why JC got best director nomination.

  • Brian Boru says:

    Well, I loved “The Power of the Dog”. Not for the story line but for the set and scenery.
    I couldn’t wait to see in the credits where it had been made. I guessed “big Sky” Montana or Canada but it just blew me away to find it was New Zealand.

  • 27hugo27 says:

    Wonderful article JD and your inner strength in writing it phenomenal – my sincere condolences. Huge Sheridan fan here, and readers should check out the “Sicario” films, “Hell or high water” and “Wind river”, all excellent views. I think it was Campion’s intent to de-mythologise the Western, and of course masculinity as the two are welded together. Nominally heterosexual, she goes out of her way to affect butchness, and perhaps deliberately casts anti American (and effeminate} actor Cumberbatch, an actor i would never pay to see, and Kody Smit Mcphee, vegan Aussie, in main roles. On that note, i wonder why so many Brits (and Aussies) are cast in seemingly every American film or series, with their soft from nowhere accents, when authentic yanks are available. Eg Damien Lewis in “Homeland”, “Billions”, Charlie Hunnam, miscast in “Sons of Anarchy” half the main cast in admittedly the best show ever, “The Wire” and so many other films and shows. BtW if Campion has an antipodean doppelganger, it surely must be Baz Luhrmann.

  • Tony Tea says:

    I’m a big time Western fan, but I only lasted half of Power of the Dog, what’s more I reckon Yellowstone is slop.

  • Tony Tea says:

    Oh, and I loved Hell or High Water. My fave film of the decade.

  • Tony Tea says:

    Hugo, it’s probably because they want recognition in England. That’s their excuse anyway. I think it’s because the Yanks have run out of good leading actors. They have plenty of great character actors, but their leads are wood ducks who can only strike poses.

  • 27hugo27 says:

    True enough TT, and i do recall David Simon saying they were much cheaper. Still the inauthentic accents are annoying.

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