In the Dark

Shooting One Another in the Land of the Free

Gods and Generals
Produced and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell
Screenplay adapted from Jeff Shaara’s novel by Ronald F. Maxwell
Released by Warner Bros.

Opening in 2003, director Ron Maxwell’s Civil War film, Gods and Generals, was swept from the multiplexes within two weeks by a torrent of critical hysteria.  “Jingoistic goat spoor,” raged one reviewer; “boring and bloated,” sputtered another.  Gentler commentators sighed it was “numbing,” “an unqualified disaster.”  It was John Anderson in New York’s Newsday, however, who best revealed what lay behind all this clamor.  He found the film to be a “shameless apologia for the Confederacy as a divinely inspired crusade for faith, home, and slave labor.”

This nearly universal condemnation revealed that Maxwell had broken a taboo.  In adapting to the screen Jeff Shaara’s carefully researched novel of the same title, he had dramatized the Confederate point of view as well as the Union’s.  Although he presents both sides as deeply flawed, this wasn’t enough for America’s mainstream press for he also suggested the South’s cause was not without justice.  Anderson was partially correct.  The Confederacy was fighting for faith, home rule, and states’ rights.  It was not,...

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