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A star (and highly profitable) Paramount showrunner, former actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has lately made a specialty of providing work for worn-out, mostly male stars in productions that rekindle founding myths of America and its cinema – the cowboy for Kevin Costner (Yellowstone), the gangster for Sylvester Stallone (Tulsa King).
We can consider that Harrison Ford was probably the one of the three who needed it the least, he who for the fifth time endorsed the costume of Indiana Jones (release of the next opus at the end of June) and who has just shown, in the skin from the grumpy shrink of Shrinking, how old age suited him. It is, however, the main interest of 1923, alongside the British Helen Mirren, whose presence in the credits of this new spin-off of Yellowstone seems a promise of quality.
The first episodes are also up to expectations, because, once is not custom, the showrunner deviates from his rather rectilinear mode of narration to divide the plot of the series into three distinct spaces. The whole finds a common thread in the voice of Elsa, the young Dutton around whom the story of 1883 and which represents, in a way, the conscience of the family.
Indian women forcibly conscripted
After describing in 1883 emigration to the West of the Dutton ancestors, Taylor Sheridan propels his characters into the effervescence of the “Roaring Twenties”. In Montana, where the Duttons are now major landowners, Cara (Helen Mirren) and Jacob (Harrison Ford) see the beginnings of the recession taking shape that will hit agriculture hard a few years later. Without children, they prepare the transmission of their domain and their responsibilities – Jacob, like his descendant James (Kevin Costner, in Yellowstone), presides over the local breeders’ association – to their two nephews, one of whom fled the trauma of the trenches of 14-18 by inventing a life as an adventurer in Africa.
The question of land, land ownership, who was there before and who exercises their right to the land remains at the heart of the series and even underpins a rougher third story arc, which describes the brutal assimilation of young Indian girls forcibly enrolled in a Catholic boarding school. It is in these sequences that the series is the most “Sheridanian”.
Which is not to say that the saga does not show signs of evolution. The very testosterone writing of Yellowstone, from which actress Kelly Reilly emancipated herself to making Beth the critics’ favorite character, gives way to a more overtly progressive portrayal of the role of women in building modern America. Cara thus takes over the ranch to make up for Jacob’s absence, and the most violent scenes in the series are those which oppose the young Indian Teonna to her female torturers. These biases make surprising the very “male gaze” kitsch with which the African romance between Spencer and the very blonde Alexandra is filmed.
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