"North & South" Movie Synopsis

by Nathaniel Williams
Patrick Swayze headed up an all-star cast in North and South.

Patrick Swayze headed up an all-star cast in North and South.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

North and South is an epic TV mini-series that originally ran on broadcast network ABC in 1985, 1986 and 1994. It starred Patrick Swayze but featured a huge array of Hollywood talent in small roles, including James Stewart, Johnny Cash, Peter O'Toole, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum and Gene Kelly. The first two seasons were a great success, but the last was generally considered a disappointment.


Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) is a wealthy young southerner attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. There he meets and befriends the wealthy northerner George Hazard (James Read) and falls in love with a woman from New Orleans, Madeline Fabray, who is engaged to marry someone else. Orry and George are both treated cruelly by their drillmaster, a villainous man from Georgia named Bent. Bent finally gets his comeuppance and is expelled from the academy, and the two friends graduate from West Point and serve in the Mexican-American War. Orry is injured and later becomes Madeline's secret lover. George and Orry become business partners after the war.


Orry's sister Ashton is scorned by George's brother Billy who prefers her younger sister, and she soon becomes quite promiscuous. She becomes pregnant and seeks Madeline's help. Madeline helps her obtain an abortion. George's sister helps one of Orry's slaves escape the south and marries him upon reaching the north. The two fall in with abolitionist firebrand John Brown and the husband is killed in the famous raid on Harper's Ferry. National events begin to eclipse personal dramas, as Lincoln's election prompts secession by several southern states.

War Approaches

George's brother is in the army and sent to the federal Fort Sumter, not far from Orry's South Carolina plantation. Orry opposes South Carolina's secession but remains loyal. Madeline escapes her abusive husband and seeks shelter with Orry. Orry, realizing war is about to start, travels north to buy George out of his half of the business. While there, Orry is almost killed by an angry mob, but George protects him. Orry returns south.


Orry becomes an officer in the Confederate Army, while George rejoins the Union Army. Both become aides to their respective national leaders -- Orry to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, George to President Abraham Lincoln. Back at home, Orry's sister Ashton begins an affair with the villainous Brent, who is now a smuggler. George witnesses the devastating Union defeat at Bull Run without taking part. Madeline's husband returns to take her back, badly injuring Orry's mother in the process.

1862 to 1863

Incensed, Orry returns home, kills Madeline's husband and marries her. He also thwarts Brent's smuggling operation, making even greater enemies of Brent and Orry's own sister, Ashton. In the north, George's brother has taken over his steel mill and is deliberately producing low-grade iron for army munitions. George and Billy's respective brothers take part in the gruesome Battle of Antietam, but spare each other when they recognize one another. Ashton confronts Madeline with information about her past that suggests she may have a recent ancestor who is African-American. Afraid of sullying Orry's reputation, Madeline departs for Charleston.

War's End

George is captured by the Confederates and taken to a military prison and tortured. Orry is also wounded and captured, but meets George's sister there and escapes. Orry returns to free George from the Confederate prison and helps back home. Soon they are back in command of forces in the field and fight in the epic siege of Petersburg. Finally, the Confederacy is defeated and the two friends are reunited as they learn of President Lincoln's assassination. The two find Madeline, who has born Orry's baby son, in Charleston. George and Orry agree to renew their cotton mill business.


The third chapter of the miniseries aired almost a decade after the first ended, but the story begins only weeks later. Bent seeks revenge on Orry and is finally successful in murdering him. Orry's sister is heartbroken and departs for the unsettled west and becomes a prostitute. Madeline works to reconstruct Orry's plantation and comes into conflict with the local Ku Klux Klan over her friendly attitude toward freed slaves. When she is endangered, George comes to her aid. George defeats the Klan and falls in love with Madeline.

About the Author

Nathaniel Williams has been writing for the web since 2001. He has written for the History News Network, Being There Magazine, Seattle.net and Vote iQ. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Washington and is a working filmmaker.

Photo Credits

  • Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images