The Pillars of the Earth

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When I read The Pillars of the Earth about 15 years ago I was hooked. I thought that it would be so great if someone could make a film from this amazing story by Ken Follett. The book had actually been published in 1989 and it was 21 years before anyone gave it a try. In 2010 the Starz Network released this mini-series starring big names like Ian McSchane, Donald Sutherland, and Rufus Sewell.

This is an amazing story with a deep plot and a colorful range of characters. I’m at a loss to try and summarize this film so I’ll let another author do it for me.

“The Pillars of the Earth is set against a backdrop of war, religious strife and power struggles which tears lives and families apart. In that time, there rises a magnificent Cathedral in Kingsbridge. Against the backdrop, love-stories entwine: Tom, the master builder, Aliena, the noblewoman, the sadistic Lord William, Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge, Jack, the artist in stone work and Ellen, the woman from the forest who casts a curse. At once, this is a sensuous and enduring love story and an epic that shines with the fierce spirit of a passionate age. Follett masterfully weaves these stories through political turmoil of 12th century England, creating a relevant and viable world for today’s audience and for generations to come.”

– Anonymous

So how did Starz do with this amazing story? I’ll start with the good:

  •  The film captures a lot of small details from the book which could have been easily left out.
  • The actors were well-cast and fit the descriptions in the book. The actors were also very talented and made themselves quite believable.
  • The film didn’t feel rushed or squeezed, I feel that they took every bit of time they needed to capture the entire story. In total there are eight episodes of one hour each.

What about the bad?

  • The film felt like it was produced on a Made-For-TV-Movie budget. The special effects felt cheap and the sets sometimes felt false. This surprised me since the film had a $40 million dollar budget.
  • The score was almost phoned in. I’m not sure if it’s even something made for this series or a soundtrack from some BBC series about the medieval era.

Put all of this together and I think you’ve got a film that’s worth watching if you’re a fan of the book or just willing to overlook flaws for an amazing story. If I was to choose I would be more likely to suggest the book or it’s sequel World Without End.

I would rate this at 2.7 stars out of 5 based solely on the excellent acting by the stars of the film. Mini-series veteran Ian McShane is amazing in his role as Waleran Bigod and shows the same skill that made Deadwood such an amazing series.

Rating: TV-MA

Running Time: 480 minutes (8 episodes)

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