Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Recommendation: Pillars of the Earth

Pillars of the Earth is a new miniseries from Starz and airs on Movie Central in Canada. While this series, based on Ken Follet's novel, isn't as sexualized or over-stylized as Spartacus, Starz's other addictive creation, it is certainly a smart adaptation of what must be a dense book. 

The story deals with the troubled succession following Henry I's death as his nephew Stephen usurps the throne from Henry's daughter Maude, and her legal heir, Henry II. Henry is the first of the Plantagenet kings and Stephen's reign becomes known as The Anarchy, as Maude attempts to raise an army with her bastard brother, Gloucester. 

Add to this 12th Century political intrigue, is the rise to power of the scheming Bishop Walernan Bigod (played by Ian McShane). For Canadian fans, Gordon Pinchot plays the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Donald Sutherland is the deposed Bartholomew, loyal to Maude. The corrupt Hamleigh family is also attempting to gain a title, which comes at the expense of Bartholomew's family. All of these machinations focus around the setting of the Priory of Kingsbridge, run by the newly appointed and idealistic Prior Philip.

Tom (Rufus Sewell) arrives with his family in the midst of this turmoil, and meets the very seductive Ellen, who, with her mysterious son, Jack, has a lot of secrets on everyone and what's been happening in the region. Tom is a master builder, and when disaster strikes the local priory, he embarks on a years long endeavour to reconstruct a more magnificent cathedral.

Pillars is very much in line with some of HBO's series like Rome and Deadwood, as you get an earthy sense of everyday life in that time period. And if you're a fan of medieval history, or The Tudors, it's pretty much guaranteed you'll enjoy this, as it has the same political machinations of the latter series, and a consistent look that takes place over three hundred years earlier.

This has all the makings of a great series—a prophecy, curses, epileptic fits, and gritty realism. There is a conspiracy going back to the death of Henry I's heir, witchcraft accusations and lots of 12th Century shenanigans. It kept my attention for the first three episodes and I'll certainly be following it to its conclusion. The first episode was a bit of an info dump attempting to keep track of the many characters and their relationships, royal titles and names, but it's well worth a look.

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