Kane & Abel (TV-Miniseries 1985)

Adapted from the phenomenally popular best-seller by Jeffrey Archer, the three-part, seven-hour CBS miniseries Kane & Abel is the tale of two tycoons -- one a self-made man, one born into wealth -- who both came into the world on the very same day. The illegitimate son of a Polish baron, Abel Rosnovski (Peter Strauss) is forced to fend for himself from childhood. Escaping from Siberia during WWI, Abel emigrates to America, where he builds up a multimillion-dollar hotel business. Meanwhile, Boston brahmin William Lowell Kane (Sam Neill) is carefully groomed to take his place in both society and the financial world, succeeding on both counts in the banking business. Though Abel and Kane might have become friends in any other circumstances, an accidental slight on Kane's part earns him the undying enmity of a vengeful Abel -- and thus is set in motion a tense, feud-driven power struggle that will consume both their lives for the next 25 years. Filmed on-location in Canada, England, and France, Kane & Abel originally aired from November 17 to 19, 1985.

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Short video excerpt from "Jeffrey Archer - A Writers View" found on the UK DVD release

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Sam Neill - Kane and Abel Sam Neill - Kane and Abel

Article from the February 10, 1986 edition of The Age (Australia) by Barbara Hooks.


Flawed but enjoyable parable of power


‘KANE and Abel‘, the seven-hour television adaptation of Jeffrey Archer’s bumper yarn about life and love in Boston boardrooms and bedrooms, is a classic example of the end justifying the means. The means are somewhat underwhelming. The end makes it all worth-while, so stick with it.

Spanning 70-odd years, ‘Kane and Abel’ tells the story of two men who, embittered by boyhood experiences, become emotional cripples hell-bent on knocking the crutches out from under each other. William Kane (played by the heartbreakingly handsome Sam Neill) is born, with not so much a silver spoon in his mouth as a 72-piece canteen, to a dynasty of Boston bankers. Something of a snap with a slide-rule, he glides through Harvard Business School, on to the board of the Kane-Cabot Bank and into marriage with Mrs. Furillo (Veronica Hamel, still wearing the pizza man’s shirts in the boudoir), a well-bred filly from Florida.

Kane’s psychological limp was acquired in childhood, following the death of his father and the remarriage of his mother to Boston philanderer and flake David Osborne, whom Kane erroneously blames for the untimely demise of his mater.

On the same day as Kane is born, a peasant woman in rural Poland gives birth to Abel Rosnovski (Peter Strauss), illegitimate son of the local baron. Rosnovski endures war, incarceration, the rape, pillage and plunder of his entire family, a close shave with a Turkish swordsman and a steerage passage to America. There, by keeping his ears close to the tablecloths, he meets the likeable but lugubrious Davis Leroy (Fred Gwynne of Herman Munster fame), a Chicken Leghorn sort of character who promotes him from head waiter to hotelier before you can say “Hilton.”

When Leroy, ruined by the Wall Street crash, takes the fastest route to the ground floor, the grieving Rosnovski erroneously blames banker Kane who, up to that point, is guilty only of faintly snooty behavior. Events conspire to align Osborne and Rosnovski and the scene is set for the ensuing power play which inevitably involves their children.

‘Kane and Abel’ is a US production with a British patina – an American dressed in a burberry. I enjoyed it. Eventually. But I did find, among other flaws, that the establishing episode was painstaking to the point of punishing in its efforts to establish the characters and thus grindingly slow to set up dramatic conflicts; that the plot was too inclined to milk dry the cow of coincidence; that Strauss, particularly, was guilty of over-performing on occasions; that the device of concealed identity, a favorite with Archer, was somewhat clichéd and the whole premise of real or imagined – mostly imagined – slights leading to such bitter rivalry between two quite likeable, but blinkered characters, rather hollow.

Suspending disbelief, I hung in there because ‘Kane and Abel’ is also splendidly staged and shot, skillfully scripted (by Robert Lenski), peopled with high profile and highly watchable supporting characters, punctuated with deft touches of verbal and visual humor and, after its achingly slow beginnings, quite capable of sustaining dramatic tension to the splendidly sentimental climax.

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Article from the February 11, 1986 edition of The Age (Australia) by Brian Courtis

US Produces a distinctly British ‘Kane and Abel’

Buzz Kulik, a film and television director with a pleasantly gritty personal style that seems to fit perfectly his Hollywood name, quietly decided he would make himself a very British drama mini-series.

The production that inspired this thought was the $14 million seven-hour adaptation of Jeffrey Archer’s novel, ‘Kane And Abel‘, a hefty bestseller that had been published in 21 languages and in 61 countries.

"I told no one this," he said in Los Angeles recently. "I decided I would try to show people that the BBC techniques and styles, which have been so successful around the world, could be used just as efficiently and effectively by Americans.”

'Kane And Abel’ is the first mini- series from Embassy, the company formed by Norman Lear to produce more comedy hits after ‘All ln The Family’. lt was among the developments encouraged by Michael Grade, the man Lear appointed to carve out new paths for Embassy.

Grade, a nephew of Britain’s Lord Grade and now running the BBC, was an executive producer. The author, Jeffrey Archer, has been a highly regarded member of Margaret Thatcher’s Government.

The cameraman assigned to Kulik was also English. If the director needed advice about British production methods, it was always nearby.

‘Kane And Abel' is the story of two powerful “American” businessmen from two very different worlds. It spans 65 years and two continents. In the TV series, which began on Channel 10 last night and continues tonight and tomorrow, William Lowell Kane, a brilliant Boston banker, is played by Sam Neill and Abel Rosnovski, a Polish immigrant who becomes a hotel tycoon, by Peter Strauss. Co-starring are David Dukes and Veronica Hamel.

Buzz Kulik, who brought them all together, has some impressive credits of his own. He shared Emmy Award honors for the ‘Play-house 90' series, and has been nominated for Emmys five times. He worked on ‘Twilight Zone', directed the films ‘Sergeant Ryker’ and ‘Shamus’, and directed such highly-acclaimed telemovies as 'Brian's Song’ and ‘Kill Me lf You Can'. The mini-series he has directed include ‘From Here To Eternity' and Sidney Sheldon's ‘Rage Of Angels’.

At the Embassy offices in Seward Street, Hollywood, Kulik explained how and why he created his British "look" for ‘Kane And Abel’, and how he managed to bring it in close to budget and with-in the schedule, something of a rarity for lumbering mini-series.

“What I did was change the tempo a little," he said. “We started shooting it for six hours, but in the middle of this we determined that we would have to be too punchy with it, and that the style of the piece would be better served with seven hours.

“Now the American way of doing things would have been to compress the drama. But CBS, the American network screening the series, liked what we were doing and was kind enough to give us that extra hour.

"The pace, you know, was less punchy than we’re used to here. Our tendencies … well, I don't think we give too much credit to our audiences.

“Most people would like to come in on the middle of a scene rather that at the beginning of it and with certain forms I think that’s right. But this story, I felt, although about Americans, was very British. So I decided I would give it a shot this way.”

The extra hour did not put undue pressure on the budget. Although the series was being filmed in New York, Paris and in Canada, there were new scenes that could be played on sets that had already been built.

Kulik says he remained "very faithful" to the book, but it would have needed another four hours of television “to cover the entire canvas" painted by Jeffrey Archer.

"There were cuts …," Kulik said. “At one point in New York, when Abel is still a waiter, he decides he does not know much about women and should learn. So he finds a hooker who teaches him the various forms of love-making. Well, we tried to keep that in, but because of the time it took we could not.

"So that came out, and whenever one takes something out you have to bridge . . . those were really the only changes. We were very faithful to the book.”

Kulik had a great deal of praise for his cast, and no criticism of actors who have had a reputation for being artistically temperamental. There were few, if any, clashes, mainly because of the way the filming was split between the Kane and the Abel stories. When the camera was on the Kanes, the Abel team was free to relax, and vice-versa.

“Peter’s performance was a very bold and brave one.” Kulik said. “He had to play from his late teens to his 60s. He has to have a Polish accent.

"Most actors would try to minimise the Polish accent, but he went for it. He has had a few reviews here that have suggested he was 'over' with his accent. I don‘t agree. I think it's one of the best performances I’ve ever been associated with.

"Sam, on the other hand, is a New Zealander who had to learn a Boston Brahmin accent and did it, I think, quite wonderfully.”

And Veronica Hamel?

“She comes in with a lot of ideas, which is what an actor really should do, and a lot of them are excellent ideas." Kulilt said. “But she is also willing to be over-ruled and to be guided. She is absolutely professional."

If there is one concern Kulik has about mini-series, it is their treatment at the hands of some critics. He believes that because of program length, the shows do not always get a fair examination.

“They have a beginning, a middle and an end, and you’re required to see all six, seven or eight hours, which is a helluva long time to sit on your butt,” he said.

“Well, I think a lot of critics, now that they’re getting cassettes, are ‘skimming'. I think there is a lot of skimming and that is cheating. I don’t think they're doing justice to the material and to what has been produced.”

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