Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee Review

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Dee Brown’s classic given the HBO treatment

★★★★★

Worthy, intelligent, impeccably acted and straining towards greater significance, this adaptation of Dee Brown’s history of the last days of the Sioux nation suffers from not being its groundbreaking, cuss-mouthed HBO stablemate Deadwood. It’s just so wan and seemly by comparison.

Brown’s heartbreaking book spans the 14 years from the Sioux’s last insurgence at the Battle Of Little Big Horn in 1876 to the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, when the 7th Cavalry opened fire on unarmed native men, women and children. We are given an abbreviated and expository account shot across elegant landscapes, punctuated with sepia photos of its leads (played by Adam Beach, Aidan Quinn and Anna Paquin) to emphasise just how authentic and noble it is aiming to be.

Director Yves Simoneau, with writer Daniel Giat, are evidently drawing allusions with the current situation in Iraq - the film is fraught with double-pronged rhetoric, referring constantly to President Grant’s determination to ‘civilise’ the natives, the ‘make them like us’ policy – a process that stripped them of identity, sacred land, self-determination and their leaders of ranking. August Schellenberg proves the stand-out as ex-chief and lead agitator Sitting Bull.

Yet this TV film struggles to clamber beyond the obvious. Deadwood’s genius was to paint its proto-America as an amoral hinterland, while only once in this starkly defined world of soul-searching Sioux and fork-tongued politicians does it dare to suggest the situation was any more complicated: “The proposition that you were a peaceable people before the appearance of the white man is the most fanciful legend of all!” charges Shaun Johnston’s determined Colonel Miles of a truculent Sitting Bull. Violence is a trait shared by all races.