Yellowstone co-creator Taylor Sheridan aims high – and most of all succeeds – in this sweeping revisionist western, which simultaneously celebrates the natural wonder of the American frontier, recreates it in extremely costly detail, and illustrates it as a place of torment and loss unspeakable. The tale will eventually encompass the calamitous 3,000-kilometer journey settlers made from east to west America in the 19th century, but after just 10 kilometers, deaths in the wagon train are rife thanks to smallpox and shootings. .
1883 is an origin story of the Dutton family. In Stan’s contemporary drama Yellowstone, Kevin Costner’s John Dutton is the sixth-generation patriarch of a vast Montana ranch, which he holds against his opponents as his bloody birthright. The Dutton who – perhaps – got the clan there is James (Tim McGraw), a Civil War veteran who will stop at nothing to give his family a better life. That Montana isn’t actually on the Oregon Trail, the route hundreds of thousands of people take to the west, is just one of the many twists and turns the plot sets up.
The storytelling, imbued with elemental dread from a Terrence Malick movie, is delivered by Elsa Dutton (Isabel May), 17, the eldest daughter of James and Margaret (Faith Hill, McGraw’s wife in real life) . “It smelled wild, wild,” she says from Texas, where their journey begins, and the teenager is mesmerized by the vast landscape and like all other travelers face deadly risk at every turn. Death is constant, cruel and unfair – the killers are sometimes killed, but justice has no role.
Elsa’s opposite is aging Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott), who, after suffering personal loss, is paid to lead a convoy of vulnerable – so disturbing – German immigrants and the Duttons west alongside his deputy Thomas (LaMonica Garrett), a black cowboy. Elliott’s laconic line is ideal for dialogue that invokes anarchy and economic brutalism. If the Dutton philosophy in Yellowstone is uncompromising, so 1883 suggests that it was forged into a much worse reality.
You don’t need any knowledge of Yellowstone to start 1883, but the success of the first – America’s most popular scripted series – is reflected in the budget of the second. The streets of Forth Worth are teeming with hundreds of extras and magical snapshots per hour reveal the full train. It’s a beautifully produced ode – with cameos from superstars – to spooky nation building and the initial episodes are uncompromising and compelling. “I knew nothing about the horror that lurks in the shadow of freedom,” Elsa says, but Taylor Sheridan embraces them.
Binge, from Thursday