What do you do with a story that is too long to be a movie but is too short to be an episodic TV series? It becomes a mini-series! One of television’s finest inventions is this brilliant medium of storytelling that allows for the proper expression of various tales. The Bible, which is set to be aired on Channel 5 from 30th November 2013 and will be released on Blu-Ray, DVD and DigitalHD on 26th December from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, is one of the most recent examples of a story that found brilliant expression through the form. We look back now at 10 other mini-series that captivated audiences.
No list of significant miniseries would be complete without Roots, an adaptation of Alex Haley’s novelisation of his ancestors in slavery. Over three decades later, the show’s finale still ranks as the third-highest rated show in American history. The cultural impact on the US was massive; many credit it as a huge driver of racial discourse in the 1970s.
The Thorn Birds (1983)
Intergenerational stories are difficult to pull off in film and episodic TV. As The Thorn Birds showed though, they are the perfect property to be tackled by the miniseries. This adaptation of Colleen McCullough’s best-selling novel spanned 57 years and found a viewership to rival Roots.
North and South (1985-1986, 1994)
The American Civil War is such a sprawling subject that only movies like Gone with the Wind that are 4 hours long can really do it justice. North and South, in each of its three iterations, really captured the intricacies of personal dynamics in the conflict by focusing on two military buddies who wind up fighting on opposite sides of the war. It makes a great watch today too because it stars Patrick Swayze and Kirstie Alley when they were very young!
House of Cards (1990)
While Netflix’s American adaptation of House of Cards will see more than just one season, the British original confined itself to its initial small run. But that didn’t mean this political drama of Shakespearean proportions did not make its impact felt. House of Cards was the perfect product of bottled-up frustration with the politics of the 1980’s and remains relevant so long as elected officials serve themselves before their constituents.
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Fans of particular cultural objects tend to give themselves names these days, and this includes lovers of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – “Austenphiles,” as they have come to be known. The rise of this group is largely attributable to the 1995 miniseries adaptation of her acclaimed novel. With six hours being so much yet so little time to fall in love with Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy, women everywhere put down the flavour of the month book in favour of a book first published over 180 years before.
Our Friends in the North (1996)
Great spans of time are difficult to cover with enough depth in film and are often made painstakingly slow in episodic TV series. So for a show like Our Friends in the North, the miniseries was the perfect fit. It allowed viewers the perfect mixture of the personal foreground and the political background in the lives of four friends from Newcastle upon Tyne from 1964 to 1995.
Band of Brothers (2001)
War films often select to narrow their focus on a few soldiers out of a unit. That cannot be said for Band of Brothers, a mini-series about the American “Easy” Company of parachute infantry in World War II. Though it undoubtedly takes the deepest look at Damien Lewis’ Major Richard Winters, the series’ 11 hour runtime allows it to introduce us to a wide variety of men in the company.
John Adams (2008)
How can a story about one of America’s founding fathers possibly be compressed into a short movie? The mini-series gave John Adams the room to properly explore its titular US president. Moreover, it allowed for the inclusion of plenty of crucial supporting characters in a way that didn’t reduce them to little more than a waxwork museum.
Mildred Pierce (2011)
James M. Cain’s 1941 novel Mildred Pierce about a divorcee who attempts to maintain her lifestyle during the Great Depression found its first adaptation in the form of a film in 1945. The role won star Joan Crawford an Oscar, but the story was not finished. 2011 saw the novel re-adapted as a five-part miniseries, allowing for greater fidelity and attention to detail than a two hour movie could. The result? 21 Emmy nominations and 5 wins, including Best Actress for Kate Winslet as the latest screen incarnation of Mildred.
American Horror Story (2011-)
Perhaps the most unique miniseries on our list, American Horror Story has challenged just what the classification means. It has seasons just like a regular drama, and most of its cast returns each year. However, each new edition is set in a new place with the actors playing new characters. Who knows how we will define the miniseries once American Horror Story has finished its run?
The Bible debuts on Channel 5 on 30th November 2013, and will be released on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital HD on 26th December 2013 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Pre-order it here.