Nov 17, 2011

[TV] The Pillars of the Earth

I admit that the Geeky Guide can be rather diverse in its coverage. On the one hand, this is an attempt to be a guide to nearly everything. On the other, it's really just about whatever I happen to watch that triggers these reviews. And obviously, I watch a LOT of stuff.

But everyone does that, right? If you ever tried to document every movie and TV show you've watched, you're not exactly going to come up with a homogeneous list all coming from a single predefined genre, right? You're going to get a pretty wide spread of titles from different studios, covering different stories from different time periods with different actors.

Do you deny it? I doubt that.

Now this TV mini-series came into my life because of my parents, who happened to be watching it during one of my weekend visits home. While I didn't get to start the show at the time, I was intrigued enough by what I had seen to get copies for myself and watch it with Tobie.

Needless to say, we both enjoyed the show a lot, even if it's a tad outside our usual geeky fare. Heck, I haven't even heard of the franchise that this was based on prior to this.

Ken Follett
Cover of Ken Follett
The Pillars of the Earth is a 2010 TV historical drama mini-series adapted from the Ken Follett novel of the same name. It was directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan with a screenplay by John Pielmeier. It was originally distributed by the Starz in the US.

The story is set during the Anarchy when King Stephen (Tony Curran) held the throne as opposed by Princess Maude (Alison Pill). We're introduced to Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell) and his family, who initially lose the commission to build a home for William Hamleigh (David Oakes) after his marriage proposal to Lady Aliena of Shiring (Hayley Atwell) is rejected. As they travel in search of new opportunities, they encounter Ellen (Natalia Wörner ) and Jack (Eddie Redmayne), a mother and son living in the first. One thing leads to another Jack ends up joining them in search of new work.

This brings them to Kingsbridge, where Tom is eventually commissioned to build a new cathedral after the older decrepit one is lost in a fire. Prior Philip  (Matthew Macfadyen) hopes to bring new life to the priory by making a cathedral worthy of worship once more. But his plans are challenged by Bishop Waleran (Ian McShane). Thus the stage is set for some rather heavy and yet gripping drama.

The series explores many themes that were strongly relevant to the period. One obvious aspect would be the power of the Church at the time and how even the monarchy could be manipulated by members of the clergy in their efforts to advance their own goals. There's also the importance of politics as a whole in order to get things done where even the most honest and well-intentioned men such as Prior Philip end up needing to make back-room deals just to get things done.

The story also helps provide a greater appreciation for the complex class politics at the time as well as the complexity of the economy. Knights are all great in stories but in reality you can't truly be a knight unless you have the funds to purchase new armor and weapons and can assert your control over your lands. The level of detail in this show goes down to how the most common of men would live in this period, thus making it a great glimpse of what things might have been like despite the overall fictional nature of the core plot.

The series also goes into detail about construction techniques at the time as the builders try to complete the cathedral. It's just not a simple matter of putting everything together but also understanding the load that the stone must carry, the effect of various structural changes on the overall design and other nuances that you'd expect to come from an engineering / architectural lecture and not just some fictional story.

The show is truly brought alive by some rather phenomenal talent working with an obviously excellent story. I think there are few characters who didn't impress me greatly given how the actors performed to the point that it's hard to "pick sides" given everyone has their motivations for their actions. Thus you're left to just watch the whole series unfold and wonder what might happen next.

Production value was also very impressive given the extent they went to for costumes, sets and even the limited CGI needed to bring more complex scenes to life. Everything just came together really well and it made for a very impressive show - the likes of which I'd certainly like to see more of.

The Pillars of the Earth is one of those rare shows that just put forward an amazing story and do this one task very, very well. Thus it merits 4.5 instances of Jack trying to be cute yet in an unconsciously disturbing way out of a possible 5.

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