During the summer of 2010, the cable network STARZ released a miniseries entitled The Pillars of the Earth based on the novel of the same name by Ken Follett. The series spanned ten episodes and starred Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, and Donald Sutherland. Earlier this year, I watched this show and decided to give my own take on it. It’s the Illusive One’s review on The Pillars of the Earth.
It was set in Medieval England during the turbulent period after the death of Henry I, known as The Anarchy. It mainly focuses on a family of stonemasons, the Builder family and their efforts to build a Gothic Cathedral for a prior named Philip in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. There were also two major subplots of the series. The first involves the daughter and son of an earl who sought to reclaim their earldom after their father is executed. The second involves war between King Stephen and Princess Maude over the throne of England after the death of Henry I.
The series had a great cast of characters that included Bishop Waleran Bigod, played by Ian McShane, who served as the main antagonist of the series. He seeks to stop the construction of the Kingsbridge Cathedral, first because he wants the resources going into it to instead go to the construction of his own personal palace, then out of personal spite towards Prior Philip. His main instrument in this is William Hamleigh, played by David Oakes who opposes and raids the monks and workers of Kingsbridge. Prior Philip, played by Mathew Macfadyen, who wants his church built and is, for the most part, everything a priest should be. Rufus Sewell played Tom Builder, the head of the Builder family with a lifelong dream of building a Cathedral. Eddie Redmayne plays as Jack, Tom's stepson who is a brilliant and talented sculptor. His skill, however, brings the resentment and jealousy of his stepbrother, Alfred, played by Liam Garrigan. Finally there are the children of the dead Earl Bartholomew, played by Donald Sutherland. Aliena, played by Hayley Atwell and Richard, played by Sam Clafin attempt to reclaim their fathers Earldom from Hamleigh family
While the plot doesn’t look very compelling it is executed in such a great way, that you often forget what the plot actually is. The series has everything in it. It has tragedy, betrayal, romance, drama and war that all tie in perfectly with the main plot. It was well acted and had a lot of great scenes, my favorite being where the monks and the quarry workers claim the quarry from William for the first time and has to be seen to really appreciate. With all the subplots and length of the story there was no way this story could have been told by anything shorter then a miniseries.
On the negative side, however, like most other historical fiction series, it tends to drag on at a slow pace. Some of the characters were also killed off a lot faster than I expected and often left me dumbfounded. My final criticism was that the ending seemed a little rushed and things were revealed a little too quickly, and seemed a little deus ex machina.
All around I felt it was a great miniseries with a great plot, great characters and a great cast. If you liked other historical fiction series like Rome or The Tutors then I would absolutely recommend this.