UK TV review: Deadwood: The Movie
Martyn Conterio | On 01, Jun 2019Reading time: 3 mins
13 years after Deadwood was cancelled following its third season, the show returns for one last feature-length outing. Never seen Deadwood? Read why you should catch up from the beginning.
10 years after events in Season 3, Deadwood has transformed from a bustling mining camp powered by murder and deceit into a thriving commercial hub, with its citizens living a settled life. Stone buildings have replaced rickety wood structures, telephone lines connect the Black Hills to the rest of the world, and a railway track takes us right into the centre of town. Deadwood isn’t quite how we remember, even if its topography is instantly recognisable – the pine-covered valley, the muddy main drag, the hodgepodge of timber and brick.
The old way of doing things has changed, too. Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie) informs two toe rags at the train station being discourteous to the newly arrived Alma Ellsworth (Molly Parker) – and a now-teenaged Sophia (Lily Keane) – that back in the day they’d have received a sound beating for their ill manners. The march towards civilisation has softened the violent impulses of Deadwood, it seems. Even old Charlie can easily rein in his hair trigger temper. Yessir, the west has gotten a little less wild.
In 1889, South Dakota became part of the United States of America and this backdrop serves to unite old characters for one last small screen hurrah. Gold mine heiress Alma is back in Deadwood to join in the festivities, but so too is George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), now a US senator for California and a businessman who can’t let go of past humiliations. The vile Hearst left the camp in Season 3 under duress, thrown out by Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), after ordering the assassination of Mr. Ellsworth (Jim Beaver). Hearst’s presence in Deadwood causes a stink and old festering wounds are reopened.
As a television movie clocking in at 105 minutes, Deadwood: The Movie is breathlessly paced compared to a 10-episode season. Scenes flit by in the blink of an eye, but it’s always in the service of building up to its riveting conclusion. No scene is superfluous or extraneous. The enforced economy and brevity, a clever recalibration of approach to the material, produces a story that is narratively and thematically complete. It ties in perfectly with Deadwood as a series and every character is given a moment or two to shine. Nobody is short-changed, least of all the audience and fan base which has prayed for this day since 2006. The screenplay is finely honed, a masterclass in screen storytelling, and you’re going to be as happy as a pig in Mr. Wu’s pen.
Deadwood: The Movie ties up an unforgettable saga and creator David Milch imparts to us a profound humanist message: Community will always triumph over selfish individuality and avarice. The individual is always stronger as part of a group. Society isn’t perfect, people are inherently flawed, but strength in numbers can transform things for the betterment of all.