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'Klondike': There's gold in Discovery's first miniseries

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By Jacqueline Cutler
Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

When an avalanche roars down a mountain, swallowing climbers, it's clear this is not CGI. It's too real, dramatic and consuming.

That pretty much describes “Klondike,” the Discovery Channel miniseries airing Jan. 20 to 22. The cablenet's foray into scripted drama is slow to start but quickly finds the right pace.

It's a savvy choice for an epic, focusing on a chapter of history that people know, the Yukon Gold Rush, but not well. The six-hour production features characters based on real people, including a braying Jack London. It's a drama, though, not a documentary.

“Klondike” gives what a miniseries must to keep us engaged: basic human condition. And it does not get more basic than battling the elements of an endless winter in a time before high-tech materials and portable batteries were invented.

Having defrosted from this shoot, Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”), who plays the main character, good guy Bill Haskell, was driving in Scotland to “get refrosted,” he tells Zap2it.

The miniseries opens with Haskell leaving his May 1, 1897, college graduation. He helps his friend, Byron Epstein (Augustus Prew), escape a gambling den in New York's Chinatown, and they're off on an adventure. Riding in an old-fashioned train, knocking back whiskey, they don't know where they're heading and have nothing “but a hatful of hope.”

Initially, they have no idea what they are going to do with their pooled $750. But a stranger in a bar shows them his stash of gold nuggets, so they join those fighting the weather to scrape gold out of the Earth.

Madden wasn't complaining about the three-plus-month shoot, but he offers this insight about lying still on the icy tundra while his beard and eyelashes froze.

“I got frostbite on my left cheek lying on the ground,” he says, “actual, genuine frostbite. If it wasn't cold enough, they turned on huge wind machines and shoveled snow into it to hit me in the face. That just about destroyed me, and I was thinking, ‘It can't get any worse than this!' And they were setting me up for it getting much, much worse.”

Every costume is spot-on, down to making their pants and woolen coats muddied and beaten up.

The political tenor is right, too, as Abbie Cornish (“Candy”) plays Belinda Mulrooney, a fearless woman determined to make her way in the testosterone-crazed great North. She's a terrific shot, a visionary businesswoman and has no use for “the lower 45,” where women can't vote.



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