My Rating: 4 Stars
IMDB Rating: 8.2/10
Content Rating: TV-MA (18+)
Cast: Ian McShane, Matthew McFadyen, Eddie Redmayne, Hayley Atwell, Rufus Sewell, Alison Pill, Donald Sutherland, Sam Claflin
Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: Based on the Ken Follett novel of the same name, “Pillars of the Earth” is an eight-part miniseries set in 12th-century England. After the death of the heir, King Henry’s (Clive Wood) daughter (Alison Pill) and nephew (Tony Curran) fight for the throne. Meanwhile, Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell) becomes close to Ellen (Natalia Wörner) and her son Jack (Eddie Redmayne) after his wife dies in childbirth. Alliances are built and families are betrayed as everyone fights for what they believe is rightfully theirs.
The Pillars of the Earth is one of those extremely well made and yet completely horrifying mini-series that Starz/HBO likes to throw out there, with quality as good as any movie you’d see in a theater. The cast is bursting with huge name actors, and the script is beautifully written. Before I get into what I really liked about this series however, I need to do a content paragraph, because there was a lot of graphic content in The Pillars of the Earth.
So, the content you would expect from Starz is there: sex, language, violence, etc. There is nudity (waist up from the front/full back) and multiple scenes involving rape. There is self-flagellation (by an over-zealous and corrupt bishop), torture, beheading, a very crass moment involving a very angry woman, domestic abuse, a disgustingly twisted relationship between mother and son, and a scene where a man is burned at the stake. I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but this is currently what I remember. Now, after reading all that, you may ask why you should watch this series. I’m going to be honest, a lot of it was hard to watch. Here are a few reasons TO watch it, if the above content is not too much of a deterrent.
1) Matthew McFadyen plays a monk who is truly trying to do God’s work. He has a rough go of it, stumbling in his walk with God when he is manipulated into doing what corrupt Bishop Waleren wants. As the series goes on, he begins to realize this is wrong (you can’t blame him too much, he believed Waleren was a man of God) which culminates in this speech:
There are many lines like this given by McFadyen’s character, especially involving art, which is close to my heart. I really appreciated that even in the midst of all the darkness of this series, there were beautiful Biblical truths being spoken. That’s probably one of the biggest reasons I would recommend it, especially if you like this genre. Unlike many of its peers, there are moral truths and Biblical truths in The Pillars of the Earth, even if Starz didn’t intend for them to be there. Philip (McFadyen) is always encouraging people to follow what their God-given talents are (probably a very modern idea, but still nice to watch nonetheless). I loved his character so much, and I believe he is the heart and soul of this mini-series, even over Jack and Aliena.
2) Jack and Aliena have a beautiful and epic love-story. So many horrible things happen to them (especially to Aliena) and it is the biggest relief when they finally get together. There is an enormous divide between men in this series: the ones who actually value women and the ones that don’t. Jack is so sweet to poor battered Aliena, and she is SO battered. Their romance was a really nice change from all the really rough other stuff that was happening in this series. I liked also that you saw some of their future and its not just happily ever after. It made for a very real feeling relationship. (P.S. Hayley Atwell who plays Aliena was also Peggy Carter in Captain America)
3) There’s a ton of political craziness; I don’t know a ton about the history of this time period, so I don’t claim that it’s historically accurate, but it was certainly interesting. Its set during what is known as The Anarchy, and it seemed as though there was a war over the crown going on indefinitely. Seeing how the king controlled his country by doling out land, taking away titles, etc. was both infuriating and fascinating. It’s a strange world to imagine, and I found myself very understanding of why having a king like that was completely nightmarish since he could literally do whatever he wanted (until someone took his throne).
4). Part of the main storyline has to do with building the grandest cathedral every built to that day. It was a unique storyline for me, as I haven’t read or seen anything similar to it; usually series like this only focus on the political side of things. But I liked that building the Cathedral was so central to the plot. It was a good device as well, since it only supported the storylines of the Bishop’s corruption and all the good people of Kingsbridge’s plight (the town where the Cathedral was built). There was a lot of tension with a nearby town wanting to wipe Kingsbridge off the map since it was taking away from their market and such, which was another solid storyline, albeit extremely infuriating since it pitted a bunch of practically powerless monks wanting to do good against an absolutely greedy, purely hedonistic lord who was in the king and the corrupt bishop’s pocket.
5) It has a good ending. I won’t say what happens cause that’s a spoiler, but I will give you the hope that it ends satisfactorily.
This mini-series covers something like thirty years with all the same characters (that might be longer than it actually is, it might be closer to twenty). This is based on a brick of a book, so it makes sense that it would cover so much time (especially being high fantasy).
Extremely high quality, but very graphic. This is one of those moments where I’m hesitant to recommend this series, because of the content, but I think it’s worth it if you can stomach it. I’m not a fan of super graphic content myself, so I could have done without all the darkness, but the good moments do burn brightly enough to be worth watching.
Plus, Jack and Aliena are adorbs.