By Curt Wagner, @ShowPatrol
10:23 PM CST, January 14, 2014
Discovery Channel strikes it rich with "Klondike" (8 p.m. Jan. 20, 21 & 22; 3 stars out of 4), its first venture into scripted TV that's sure to please fans of its top-rated series "Gold Rush."
Based on Charlotte Gray's nonfiction book "Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike," the six-hour miniseries mixes real-life people with fictional characters to round out its vast story of man's battle with nature and his own baser instincts during the last great gold rush of 1897.
Scruffily handsome Richard Madden (King Robb of "Game of Thrones") leads a uniformly wonderful cast as hopeful Easterner Bill Haskell, who with his best friend Byron Epstein (Augustus Prew) makes the six-week trek to Alaska where they brave snow storms, steep mountains, wolves and icy rivers to reach Canada's Yukon Territory and find their fortune in a Klondike gold claim.
In the ratty frontier town of Dawson City, Haskell falls for businesswoman Belinda Mulrooney (Abbie Cornish) and befriends her bartender Joe Meeker (Tim Blake Nelson) and future novelist Jack London (Johnny Simmons). More dangerously, he draws the ire of jealous gold diggers and a greedy businessman known as the Count (Tim Roth).
But the good-natured Haskell is pretty forgiving; he realizes a prospector trying to steal his firewood just wants to keep his family warm in the harsh cold. So after besting the man in a fight, he gives him some wood. Yet the Klondike can wear down even the most optimistic young men. A shocking murder hardens Haskell into a would-be killer who debates the merits of revenge with local priest Father Judge (Sam Shepard) and Mulrooney.
"I liked it better when you used to smile," she tells him, hoping to prevent a can't-go-back decision. "The Yukon got you, didn't it, Haskell?"
It takes some time to get used to writer Paul Scheuring's period-specific dialogue, but once you stop chuckling and just go with it, you'll be fine. It only adds to the authenticity of the production that boasts terrific attention to period detail in everything from costumes and makeup to set design and decoration.
The stunning cinematography—"Klondike" was filmed in Calgary, Canada—offers sweeping images of majestic mountains and snow-white valleys that are juxtaposed with the scarred terrain of the gold claims and muddy misery of Dawson City.
Scheuring gets sidetracked by the trite redemption stories of a hooker (Conor Leslie) and a Canadian Mountie (Marton Csokas). But those are small hiccups in this entertaining, expansive tale of one man's fight to keep his humanity, which he discovers is more valuable than all the gold in the Yukon.
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