DVD Review: Pillars of the Earth

One of the advantages held by the TV mini-series over the theatrical movie is that there’s so much more time to develop plot and characters. Throw in great settings, props, and costumes, base it on a blockbuster of a book, and you’ve got a winner. Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth is chock full of good guys and villains, and within just a few chapters, the reader definitely knows the difference. And so it is in this mini-series, which has captured the essence of this epic story, a rare enough occurrence to make this production remarkable. Rufus Sewell kicks things off in the role of Tom Builder, who lands a much needed job as master builder at Kingsbridge. Years later, Jack Jackson (portrayed by Eddie Redmayne), son of the local “witch” (Natalia Woerner), takes over the project, which is overseen by prior at the monastery, Philip (Matthew Macfadyen). The Earl of Shireton has been deposed, and his daughter Aliana (Hayley Atwell) is determined to recover the title and estate for her younger brother; she manages to set up business as a wool dealer, to support their efforts. All of the above of are thwarted time and again by a powerful team of adversaries. Ian McShane is spot on as the corrupt bishop who brings all his machinations to bear in order to prevent the 12the century village of Kingsbridge from financing and building a great cathedral. Among his equally evil cohorts are William Hamleigh (David Oakes), the usurper of the local earldom, his conniving mother Regan (Sarah Parish), the usurper of the English throne, King Stephen (Tony Curran), and the brooding, resentful Alfred (Liam Garrigan). The entire saga takes place during the tumultuous years when Stephen and Maud were contesting the throne of England.
The actors all brought skill and nuance to their roles. It’s not easy to choose a standout, but I felt that Sewell, Redmayne, Atwell, and McShane deserve the honors; that is not to belittle the performances of the others. Shot primarily in Austria and Hungary, the production values are solid, and remarkably, the title sequence is a precis of the entire plot. Considering the drama, the graphic violence, the romance, and the sheer scope of the action, the director evoked some remarkably controlled performances.
This is a series to get wrapped up in. Highly recommended

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