May 2024
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Review: The Pillars of the Earth Mini-series

3D PackshotStarring a number of notable faces, including Donald Sutherland and Matthew Macfayden, The Pillars of the Earth is a TV miniseries set during the Anarchy in England based on the novel of the same name by Ken Follett.  Tom Builder, a master builder, dreams of building a cathedral, but has to put first the concerns of feeding his pregnant wife and two children.  While searching for work, they wind up stranded and taken in by a so-called witch, Ellen, and her bastard son Jack.  Shortly after, Tom’s wife goes into labor but dies in childbirth, fostering resentment between Tom’s son Alfred and Ellen and Jack.  But Tom takes Ellen and Jack with him to Kingsbridge, where the prior wants a cathedral but has no money to pay.  Jack seizes an opportunity and makes it so a cathedral is necessary – but the church is still penniless without the help of Bishop Waleran, a ambitious but corrupt churchman.  Throughout the Anarchy, as Maud and Stephen fight for the throne of England, the building of a cathedral consumes the lives and loves of these people, alongside a quagmire of difficult politics, secrets, and murder.

I normally don’t review films or mini-series here, but I read The Pillars of the Earth back in high school and couldn’t resist the opportunity to watch it recreated on screen.  When a lovely publicist contacted me and offered me the DVDs for a review, I had to accept, and I’m glad I did.  The mini-series started off slowly with an almost unceasing number of character introductions – never a good sign when you have seven hours in front of you – but quickly picked up the pace and became a consuming epic in its own right.

A few things struck me most notably about the mini-series.  Number one, it’s absolutely gorgeous, and I loved watching so much of the medieval world come to life.  The building of the cathedral was a particularly moving set.  I’m not religious but I love cathedrals; it astounds me that people built these immense, beautiful buildings for worship and standing in them is still awe-inspiring.  In almost every cathedral I’ve ever visited, there is a little model of how the cathedral was built.  I never genuinely visualised that until I saw this show.  The character dress, which clearly showed their status, was also really well done, and I felt overall the visual style felt quite authentic.

That was good, because not much else was.  I don’t hold TV or film adaptations to any sort of historical standards the way I do with most books, and I think this show perfectly demonstrates why.  It makes me very glad I checked my inner historian at the door because the actual history would have been difficult to swallow.  For instance, Matilda is portrayed as a little girl when her brother dies though she was already married, and then appears young and virginal while fighting Stephen when she was actually 35 and had had three children.  Her husband also mysteriously vanishes, though I suppose there are so many characters that one more might have been too many.  As a narrative, though, I thought the series held together.  I’ve forgotten most of the book so I was still very curious as to what was going to happen next and I found myself watching most of the series over the course of a few evenings.

Like most historical epics seem to be these days, The Pillars of the Earth is very graphic.  There is a lot of killing, which is a bit more uncomfortable visually than on paper, and there is also a lot of sex.  There was also a rape scene which was very difficult to watch, though regrettably necessary to the story.  I wouldn’t let it put me off watching the series but it’s worth noting beforehand to be prepared.

Overall, I found The Pillars of the Earth to be an engrossing mini-series that, while not perfect, certainly entertained me and kept me watching throughout. If you think you might be interested, here’s the trailer:

I am an Amazon Associate. I received these DVDs for free for review.


12 comments to Review: The Pillars of the Earth Mini-series

  • I watched the first two episodes when it came out on Showtime last year. Since I hadn’t read the book, I was seriously confused trying to sort my way through all the characters and figure out who was who. Plus is was too soap-opera-y for me; I never got past episode 2. It’s really too bad, because I’m a huge fan of Rufus Sewell. And I have to say Matthew MacFadyen was AMAZING as the monk! Probably the only convincing character in the whole thing.

  • I thought they did a great job with the mini-series. It was a huge book with much detail and no movie would be able to capture it all. Mr. BFR had not not read the book but he enjoyed the mini-series and did not feel lost. The series was nicely filmed. Still, I encourage everyone to read the book. I also liked the sequel, World without End (I think that’s the title).
    Beth F´s last post …Thankfully Reading Weekend- Getting Started

  • A friend of mine read the book before she watched the mini-series and she has raved about both ever since.

  • I am in the middle of this right now, and have to finish soon. I think Tom Builder is a hottie, and though there are a lot of liberties taken with the story as compared to the book, I am enjoying it. I will have to report back after I have completed the mini-series.

  • I’m excited to watch this series at some point — I read the book a couple of years ago and read it within a few days because I could not put it down. I’m surprised to hear about some of the changes that were done, and that I think might have been unnecessary to change from the actual book, but I could be wrong. The rape scene I’m sure is incredibly graphic, but you are right — it’s a integral part of the story.

    But, what is the deal with the historical series and films needing to be so graphic? I mean, I understand we are looking at different times that were much tougher, but sometimes…I’m usually okay with the graphic side of things, but sometimes even I can feel a little bit like it’s much.

    I’m looking forward to watching this series at some point soon! Might have to Netflix it.
    Coffee and a Book Chick´s last post …And Then There Were None- by Agatha Christie

  • My dad and I watched this together when it was on Showtime–as part of my promise to watch one historical drama a year with him–and we were overall entertained. Dad went and read the book as well, before the end of the series, so he came into the finale going ‘but they changed this and that and why is it so literal?’. Admittedly I would have loved to see the book’s version of character relationships and developments, but I enjoyed the TV series.

    Plus I think I love Eddie Redmayne expressly because of this show. And this is the first show/movie I’ve see Rufus Sewell in, in a long time at least, where he’s not the big creeper of the piece.
    Lexie C.´s last post …Zoe Marriott- Harlequin Historical and updates

  • I watched the serie but haven’t read the book. It looked pretty and I liked the actors who played Aliena and Jack.

    I could have lived with Matilda being child when her brother died but Henry killing Eustace was little too much for me.

  • Eva

    You know, I enjoyed the book when I read it, but I think if I were to reread it I’d end up cranky. So I don’t have a ton of interest in the miniseries. But I do love cathedrals: they’re so awe-inspiring!
    Eva´s last post …The Magician’s Book thoughts

  • Amy

    I gave up on the book after 60 pages and the series after the first episode. I tried but didn’t like either one.
    Amy´s last post …Monday Morning Sunday Salon

  • I read this years ago and really enjoyed it. But I don’t remember anything about it! I’d be interested in seeing the mini-series eventually…
    Lenore´s last post …A few words

  • We watched and enjoyed it. We agreed that if we hadn’t both read the book it could easily have gotten confusing to follow the story. Yeah it played fast and loose with history but I tend to be fairly forgiving when it’s clearly ‘historical fiction’.

    Yes it was beautifully filmed and we both thought that they’d done an excellent job with the casting. Many of the characters ‘looked right’ in that they didn’t conflict with the way the image of the character in my head. I thought that Jack was particularly well cast.

  • Ellen Rowe

    I never read the book but I just finished the show and I must say I cant stop thinking about it. I thought it was perfect in my eyes and I dont see how it could have been made any better than the way it was. Bravo performances to all the cast. I look forward to re-watching this again in a year or so.