Day 89: The Pillars of the Earth (2010)

As I sit to write my review today, I find myself resistant to actually putting words to [virtual] paper. It’s a beautiful, sunny day and I would love to be working on my garden. However, I have to try to be constructive on this site and not let my web presence down (web me is very demanding). Apparently, I have had issues with writer’s block lately, but I only have myself to blame. I should have just written about shows as I watched them (just like the good ol’ days). Instead, I started yet another list of titles that I have seen but need to write about. Yikes. I have list issues. That being said: I will write this review; I will write this review; I will, I will.


I don’t know why I procrastinated writing this post. I actually enjoyed The Pillars of the Earth (brought to you by Starzzzz), so it would make sense that I would be equally enthusiastic to discuss this miniseries. I guess my mind just doesn’t work that way. OK, enough putting off writing about the actual show. Here’s the scoop.


The Pillars of the Earth (based on the Ken Follett book of the same name) is set in 12th Century England—where everything is dirty, nobles murder each other in attempt to gain power, and people spit a lot (I mean a lot. It seems like that is their primary defense—even when being attacked by armed soldiers they choose to spit). Amidst this chaos, Prior Philip (Matthew Macfadyen) wants only one thing: to build the Kingsbridge Cathedral. He believes this building would be the most remarkable cathedral in England. However, Bishop Evil McSchemer (not his real name), played by Ian McShane, does everything in his power to see that this doesn’t happen. The epic story also follows the lives of several builders, nobles, and monks as Philip struggles to build his church.


I read Follett’s book about a year ago. I realize it was on the Oprah’s Book Club list, so most of the world had read it by this time, but I never was one to be on top of trends. I will be honest—I actually liked the book better than the miniseries. In part, this has to do with the scope of the novel and the difficult—nay, impossible—task of cramming all that stuff into eight episodes. However, as far as adaptations go, I thought the tone of The Pillars of the Earth (the show) was similar to the book. It is rife with conspiracy, unrequited love, class struggle, and determination.


Perhaps what I liked most about The Pillars of the Earth is the set. I found the scenery to be realistic—the villages looked poor and possibly historically accurate. I felt like I was watching scenes from Medieval England, which in turn made the story more rich. For a history buff like me, it was cool and very similar to what I imagined it to look like when I read the book. However, the special effects were pretty poor. The fires didn’t seem to actually be “in” the scenes, and the building collapses looked very fake. It is unfortunate, because it really was distracting and took away from the “reality” of the story.


Also, I was not a fan of how the series was directed. There were weird shots and scene cuts. At one point when a group of men were attacking a village, the director made an odd choice to use a point of view shot of the marauders. This alone doesn’t seem out of the ordinary, but it almost appeared as though he used one of those helmet cameras that reality shows have their contestants use as they are rappelling down a cliff. It resulted in confusing, pointless shots. I would much rather see shots that either (a) contribute to the film’s story, (b) provide a sense of place,(c) are aesthetically pleasing, or (d) are of puppies sleeping or kittens doing funny things.


On the other hand, I liked most of the actors—a difficult task when my imagination has already created these characters from the book. Often, the actors (no matter how awesome they are) can ruin a book-turned-movie because I already went through the work of deciding what the characters were like when I read the text. Most notably, I found Rufus Sewell as Tom Builder surprisingly good. He was not at all what I pictured when I plowed through the novel, but I quickly accepted him in this role. However, no matter how good Ian McShane was at playing the deliciously malicious Bishop in The Pillars of the Earth (say that five times fast), I have a hard time thinking of him as anything but the saloon owner in Deadwood who drops the “f” bomb every 2.3 seconds. Imagine how difficult it will be having to imagine him as a pirate in a Disney film (fingers crossed for him cursing like, well, a pirate, in the latest installment in the historically accurate Pirates franchise).


Overall, I found this to be a quality show. I actually haven’t seen many (or possibly any) miniseries, but this was far better than I imagined it would be. This makes me wonder what else I have been missing by avoiding that genre of television. Perhaps I have to take a look and see what’s available on Netflix…


There. I did it. Now was that so hard? (*looks at watch and notices it is three hours later from when she started the review. Sigh*).


Have a wonderful day!


Score: B+

Netflix Watch Instantly Queue: 206

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