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?
Generally favorable reviews- based on 26 Ratings
Apr 29, 2011If 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.… Full Review »
Aug 16, 2010Starz'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… Full Review »