Pillars of the Earth

  • Network: Starz
  • Series Premiere Date: Jul 23, 2010

Generally favorable reviews - based on 19 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 14 out of 19
  2. Negative: 2 out of 19

Critic Reviews

  1. 88
    Ken Follett's 1989 historical novel had a resurgence in popularity as a 2007 Book Club selection, and should finally achieve world domination with this adaptation. Who knew the Middle Ages were so soap-operatically . . . dark?
  2. The Pillars of the Earth, a six-part, eight-hour miniseries debuting Friday with a two-hour punch, delivers enough surprises to enthrall any thriller buff.
  3. 80
    The abundance of material plays out naturally, in a nicely arranged script by John Pielmeier that leans heavily on the R-rated soap side of things. You'll probably get lost in the high melodrama while watching this massive chess game, where the pawns are as prominent as the bishops, the king, and the queen.
  4. Pillars does a surprisingly good job of maintaining story coherence. It also avoids what might be called the Fairytale-Princess Fallacy of costume dramas; the muck and brutality of the Middle Ages are on full display.
  5. This requires commitment, it requires paying attention and it has few cartoonish interludes to give the audience a breather. It also reminds us the value and satisfaction we can find in a complex production executed well.
  6. Those willing to pay close attention to the long list of characters will be rewarded with a diverting story and several winning performances.
  7. 80
    This is one of those potboilers where the good guys (Madfadyen as a pious friar, Sewell as a master builder) are impossibly noble, suffering in a lawless time through the murderous machinations of the endlessly scheming villains (most notably McShane hamming it up as a cunningly ambitious church official).
  8. Reviewed by: Brian Lowry
    While the climax isn't entirely satisfying, Pillars does create strong roles for its female characters, Natalia Woerner's earthy Ellen and Atwell's determined ingenue balancing Parish's delicious wickedness. Frankly, the whole exercise would be worth the price of admission (or rather, subscription) simply for the cobra-eyed McShane.
  9. Reviewed by: Verne Gay
    Admirers of the novel probably will be pleased. Average viewers who never read the novel (or any historic fiction) will be either confused or bored--possibly both.
  10. 75
    While Pillars can seem a bit comic, it isn't camp. The characters and their beliefs are treated seriously and with respect, and no one is without some virtue or some sin.
  11. 70
    With a little bit of effort on your part--The Pillars of the Earth is pretty good viewing. It's the sort of expansive miniseries that we never see on network television anymore.
  12. Things get pretty wacky by the end--actually, they get wacky well before the end--but however unlikely, the proceedings are kept watchable by a cast that notably includes Ian McShane, Donald Sutherland, Rufus Sewell, and Eddie Redmayne.
  13. The language is occasionally anachronistic, McShane's bishop is perhaps a bit too Snidely Whiplash to be believable and I'm not sure there's a subtle moment in the entire eight hours, but The Pillars of the Earth is nevertheless the television equivalent of a page-turner: Once I'd stuck the first DVD in my player, I could find time for little else until I'd finished it.
  14. 63
    Yes, there's enough here to keep you tuning in. Just don't reach for the stars. They're out to lunch.
  15. 60
    The Pillars of the Earth will go down painlessly for the fan of this sort of epic; while it's predictable and never exactly sweeping, it's certainly eventful, and the production values are above average.
  16. All the court intrigue ends up somewhat more confusing than intriguing.
  17. In truth, it's the bountiful hamminess of McShane and the other evildoers that makes Pillars great fun, even if it's never going to be a candidate for "Masterpiece Theatre."
  18. 30
    The film is overwrought and wearying, salvaged mainly by its occasional gory details and a few enjoyably hammy performances.
  19. 12
    Nothing about the slipshod writing or frenetic direction makes these people compelling, and some of them come across as downright cartoonish.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 30 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 3 out of 9
  2. Negative: 4 out of 9
  1. Apr 29, 2011
    If this film didn't contain so much violence, sex and violent sex, it would be absolutely hilarious. The story is contrived and overwrought,If this film didn't contain so much violence, sex and violent sex, it would be absolutely hilarious. The story is contrived and overwrought, the acting laughably melodramatic and the characters universally unlikeable. Rufus Sewell and Matthew McFadyen turn in admirably understated performances, but they can't redeem a story so convoluted and anachronistic it's virtually comic; ecclesiastical Days of Our Lives, or Muppets do Medieval. McFadyen's accent is inconsistent and, as far as I can tell, totally made up (is it Welsh? Is it Midlands? It's both, and more!). Eddie Redmayne is an odd-looking Jack Builder (pretty weedy for a stonemason) with an affected working class accent that really begins to grate after the first 3 hours. His mother, a witch who distributes curses pretty liberally, somehow comes off as a gutsy heroine with an exotic foreign accent. We're supposed to adore Aliena, and to understand why everybody else adores Aliena, but she's an unrealistic and crabby female character, unsustainable over the painfully extended 6 part story. With a bad temper and cheekbones that could cut glass, there's little warmth to her character. She also miraculously gives birth within about 3 minutes after the cathedral roof collapses on her, which is almost as unlikely as using a jerry-built wall manned with peasants, monks and witches to a repel an invading army. If the producers are to be believed, people in the Middle Ages generally were overly dramatic, seriously perverse, depraved, violent and sex-mad, prone to randomly slaying, strangling, impregnating and embezzling one another. This epic is saturated with rape and blood-shed, with insinuated incest for good measure. While "loving" relationships are contrasted with unloving, it's all very lusty and rather disgusting.

    Ultimately I think we're expected to sympathise in this film, but I don't. Prior Philip is presumably one of the good guys (while Bigod is plainly bad) but he's still superstitious, a peddlar of relics and of an archaic and oppressive form of religion. The church at this time was corrupt, manipulative and exploitative. Prior Philip was complicit in this, offering absolution in exchange for manual labour. It's impossible to view the weeping virgin or Saint Adolphus's skull with anything other than derision: they're tricks of the trade, smoke and mirrors, justified because they're perceived as miracles, and therefore edifying. The film ends with a sweeping shot of a modern-day cathedral, but it isn't terribly effective. Are we marvelling at the building itself? The enduring (albeit waning) influence of the church? The crucial social infrastructure of the Church of England? I gather that's what Ken Follett was aiming for in the book, and it's a worthy topic, but surely the church is (in theory) a monument to God, the one character who doesn't get a look-in in this bloody, brawly, sexy, embarrassing epic.
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  2. Jan 9, 2011
    Very faithful to the book, this miniseries succeeds in every way. The acting is as good as it gets and the scenery is beautiful. Very goodVery faithful to the book, this miniseries succeeds in every way. The acting is as good as it gets and the scenery is beautiful. Very good job! I'm eagerly awaiting the miniseries for a World Without End! Full Review »
  3. Aug 16, 2010
    Starz's new historical fiction mini-series, The Pillars of the Earth, about medieval England sets the desires of good men and women againstStarz's new historical fiction mini-series, The Pillars of the Earth, about medieval England sets the desires of good men and women against the desires of bad ones.

    The characters constantly struggle with the question of when it is better to acquiesce or stake their life on things that they want the most.

    They are forced to pick their battles wisely as each fight could mean the death of their life and legacy. For some that legacy is the thrown of England. For others it is building a masterpiece cathedral.

    The internal and external nature of these struggles add a certain amount of grandeur to the show's scope of storytelling and accentuates the central historical conflicts of the time.

    Pillars starts as King Henry I loses his only legitimate son, and heir to the thrown, to a shipwreck. Without an heir, those around him start angling to fill the power vacuum that would be created if the King should die.

    Battle lines are drawn between the King's daughter, the young Princess Maude, and his nephew Stephen. When King Henry meets his end, Stephen is handed the crown with the backing of the church.

    But Princess Maude, a new mother to a son and potential heir, resists. She raises an army with the help of those loyal to the late King. What follows is a time in England's history referred to as â
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