It’s been a long time coming but the return to Deadwood is definitely worth the wait. It manages to provide some closure after the series’ abrupt ending but perhaps has too many story threads to weave together for a truly satisfying end. Still, it’s an utter joy to be back in the company of these characters again.
Deadwood has been off our screens for nearly 13 years, after ending rather abruptly. It would be almost unheard of today but the series was wound up on short notice back in 2006, and so while it did have an ending, it always felt like it deserved better. After years of talk about a possible movie revival, it’s finally here, our chance to return to South Dakota and the titular town in Deadwood: The Movie.
Ten years have passed since the residents of Deadwood set aside their differences to see off the ruthless George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) and his designs on the territory. Now a decade later and South Dakota’s celebration of its ascendancy to Statehood gives the perfect opportunity for the gang to be reunited. The movie opens with Robin Weigert’s Calamity Jane slowly making her trek back to town and from there the old favorites just keep on coming.
I’ve always found Deadwood to be something that needed my undivided attention, and nothing has changed. It took me maybe 15 minutes to retune my brain to be able to follow the dialogue because it comes at such a pace, and as a show, it was always uncompromising. Deadwood has never been a series that dumbed down or spoon-fed its audience and I’m delighted to see that it firmly sticks to its guns in the revival.
On a purely nostalgic level, Deadwood: The Movie utterly works because it gives you the chance to spend more time with beloved (and morally questionable) characters. The reason this works so well is that the characters have always been front and center, they’re well-rounded and believable. You can almost smell the dirt and grime and booze on them and that’s not changed. Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) is still an honorable man who is entirely ruled by his emotions. Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) is as delightfully foul-mouthed and cunning as he always was. E. B. Farnum (William Sanderson) is a loathsome, creepy, toad of a man and you can practically feel his damp palms permeating the screen. Trixie (Paula Malcolmson) is as uncompromising and confrontational as she always was but now it feels softened over the years.
The key to why I loved Deadwood: The Movie (and indeed the series) quite so much was that while these characters are utterly familiar, they haven’t been preserved in amber in the decade since we last saw them. They’ve changed, they’ve grown, they’ve evolved, but at their heart, they were still the characters I know and love. It genuinely felt like I was catching up with real people a decade later in their lives and it was a great reunion.
The story at the heart of Deadwood: The Movie is fairly familiar and picks up on the themes of the final season of the show. George Hearst is back in town, now a senator in California, and he’s once again looking to stamp his authority on Deadwood. He comes to town with the intention of forcing progress onto the residents in the shape of telephones. It’s when Hearst looks to aggressively acquire land that the real problems begin.
I think the biggest strength of Deadwood: The Movie also contributes to its biggest weakness. The original series had such an interesting cast of characters that it is nearly impossible to satisfyingly check in on them all in the space of two hours. It makes a valiant effort but the result felt a little scattershot at times, with just too many characters and too many arcs to satisfyingly knit together.
I can’t imagine that this will necessarily appeal to anyone who hasn’t already seen the show. I’m a huge fan but even I struggled to remember some of the finer plot points, mainly because I haven’t revisited the series since it originally aired. Thankfully the movie is prepared for that and is punctuated with flashbacks to the key events from the show as they become relevant.
Minor issues aside, it was an utter joy to spend more time with the residents of Deadwood. I’m pleased the series finally got the ending it deserved, although, in reality, it has just made me want even more Deadwood. The silver lining is that it has sparked me into rewatching the whole thing and if nothing else it has reinvigorated my love of swearing.
Oli has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. He has a PhD in Computer Science and he writes articles about TV, film and, very occasionally, science.