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236 of 256 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2010
I can't wait till the entire piece is available because based on the first 2 episodes I was able to watch on instant streaming, it is a PHENOMINAL interpretation of the original of my all time favorites. The characters are portrayed honestly and without the distraction of big name stars. Except of course for Donald Sutherland, who not only is great and recognizable, but blends to whatever character he plays and this role is no exception. The brutality, the vulgarity and the sexuality are all consistent with the historical times so these aspects are not solicitous or titillating. They portray a history that was brute force, political and survivalist in nature. It is a wonderful adaptation of a truly incredible book!
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108 of 119 people found the following review helpful
PILLARS OF THE EARTH is an ambitious cinematic adaptation of Ken Follett's novel by the same name. This first season is to be eight episodes, with a 'Season 2' already suggested. The overall message of this historical novel can be summarized as follows: this is a story 'about the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England. It is set in the middle of the twelfth century, primarily during the time sometimes called the Anarchy, between the time of the sinking of the White Ship and the murder of Thomas Becket. The story traces the development of Gothic architecture out of the preceding Romanesque architecture and the fortunes of the Kingsbridge priory against the backdrop of actual historical events of the time. Although Kingsbridge is the name of an actual English town, the Kingsbridge in the novel is actually a fictional location representative of a typical market town of the time'.

Shot on location in Hungary with director Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, director of photography Attila Szalay, and set to the fine musical scoring by Trevor Morris, PILLARS OF THE EARTH is off to a fine start in the first three episodes. While the series is based on historic facts, there are so many sidebars of added information that it is a bit difficult to keep the flow of the story straight. Prior Philip (Matthew Macfadyen) yearns to build a cathedral in Kingsbridge, much to the chagrin of the evil Waleran (Ian McShane). Philip's innate kindness and focus of his mission leads him to Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell) whose wife has died in childbirth and the newborn is left by Tom on his mother's grave only to be saved by a quiet monk. Tom encounters Ellen (Natalia Wörner) and her mute son Jack (Eddie Redmayne) who join forces to not only build Prior Philip's cathedral but fight against the forces of royalty who would alter life in general for all of them. The fine cast includes Donald Sutherland (early on beheaded), Hayley Atwell, Allison Pill, Gordon Pinset, David Oakes, Sam Claflin, Skye Bennett and many others. The costumes and sets are realistic and portray the period well. There is a lot of the now requisite bloodshed and some rather gory scenes, but those go along with the accurate reenactment of the period. Definitely worth watching. Grady Harp, August 10
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167 of 188 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2010
Early in the series, I was a 5-star fan, but I knocked off a star after there were a few deviations from the plot of the book. Obviously, nearly any book that's being converted to television/movie must be abbreviated or adapted in some way; Ken Follett's original work contained a lot of internal monologue that would have been difficult to translate to screen. The show's strengths are it's epic scale, incredible level of production (sets/costumes/etc.), and PERFECT cast. I honestly can't imagine anyone else as Prior Phillip, Jack, Aliena (although she took an episode to grow on me), Waleran Bigod, Remigius, or almost any other character. So, in summary:

- Perfect cast
- Amazing production design, locations/sets, costumes, etc.
- Epic scale

-Plot differs from the book as the series goes on

My recommendation: enjoy the show for it's strengths, but do yourself a favor and READ THE BOOK. You will fall in love with this story and these characters!
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon March 3, 2011
7 hrs is NOT enough. An elaborate cast, set, costuming, script adaptation of Ken Follet's classic novel. Historical content, leading one to believe a British monk & mason invented Gothic church architecture, including the winged `flying' buttress. The truth is acknowledged near the end, but not before getting the viewer totally enthralled in this action/adventure/romantic epic drama. Builders, monks and royalty of the middle Ages between the years 1120 and 1170, shot on a Budapest location.

The awesome cast has been listed elsewhere, as large as the production itself. First class in every way. Truly this should become a recognized Century 21 classic, a modern "Gone With the Wind." Impressive in every detail, even having the book's author in a merchant's role, episode 7.

The series is "NOT RATED" but beware, if it makes a difference, there is full frontal nudity, violent scenes, sex, & bold language. Blood, decapitation, incest...well, enough warning. I'd still recommend this to today's 12-year-olds and beyond because of the powerful story, dramatic filming, and historical/educational dramatization. You ENTER the Middle Ages immediately after passing through the opening credits. Spellbinding. Mesmerizing. Bewitching. Stellar.

Some helpful genealogy you might want to copy/paste/print:
King Henry I: only son died at sea; Maud (birthed Henry II); nephew Stephen
Tom Builder: wife Agnes; son Alfred; daughter Martha; son Jonathan
Bartholomew: daughter Aliena (birthed Tom); son Richard
Jacques Cherbourg: son Jack via lover Ellen
Percy Hamleigh: wife Regan; son William

Eight episodes each about 53 minutes:
1 ANARCHY- Henry I dies after the king's heir is lost in the sea burning of the royal ship. Nephew Stephen wins throne. Daughter Maud & son have followers. Tom Builder looks for masonry work and crosses paths with Ellen and her son, Jack.

2 MASTER BUILDER- Kingsbridge church burns and there are political deals aplenty. Ellen is accused as witch, & possible holder of a great secret. William gets motherly incest as well as rape added to his achievements. Maud is off to safer France. Tom begins a cathedral.

3 REDEMPTION- Tom and William battle over quarry stone. Richard and Aliena seek mercy from father's hanging, and make a deal, a costly one.

4 BATTLEFIELD- William and a mystery knight battle for the Shiring Earldom. Stephen and Maud have armies that battle too. Philip looses a battle with Waleran's torturers.

5 LEGACY- Gloucester and Stephen both offered for a prisoner exchange. Then Maud and Stephen continue warring. A Kingsbridge festival is terrorized. Jack and Alfred battle over a girl and Tom must sent one packing.

6 WICHCRAFT- Maud's back in France and Stephen reigns on. Richard has a Kingsbridge return. Alfred pops the question, marriage and builder style. A HUGE building tragedy, again. Jack's seeking his French family, and work.

7 NEW BEGINNINGS- Jack studies geometry & stone building near Paris, a new Gothic style. Aliena treks to France too. Kingsbridge recovers and grows, as does the cathedral and Philip gets an offer from Waleran.

8 THE WORK OF ANGELS- 8 passing years and Jack focuses on twin tower conclusion, but the roof begins to crack. Aliena & Richard yet seek an Earldom. Waleran's yet with ambition, as is young Henry.

A satisfying ending, other than the fact that you have grown to love this series and never want it to end. Sorry for the epic length of this review but "Pillars of the Earth" is worth 6 Amazon stars--if I could award that many.
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63 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2010
I just finished watching the series after finishing the book the day prior to starting the episodes, so the book was very fresh in my memory. I must admit that I kept watching and loved the actors that were cast in each role, but it deviated from the novel so much that it ended up being a disappointment. Certainly, most will enjoy the plot if they haven't read the book, but if you have, then be prepared for some serious changes in the storyline, the characters (including changing who the true villain was) and their behavior. Very strange that the series would take such enormous leaps with William's mother, Waleren and King Stephen and also completely change the ending which tied in with the history of the times. Such a shame since, in the novel, there were so many stories of redemption and forgiveness which, I believe, countered all the corruption within the church.
I feel like it was dumbed down, which frustrates me. Viewers are much more savvy these days, so why take such liberties? I can only guess that it was easier to turn everyone into incestuous murderers for the sake of ratings. Ken Follet was in one of the scenes, so I guess he put his stamp of approval on it. Go figure!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2011
I hate when I read the obligatory "the book was better" regarding all adaptations. However, in this case I am forced to do it myself. I wouldn't mind the departure from the plot in the book if it had made the story better, or at least if it had kept it as entertaining, whether it was different or not; it needed to be shortened at any rate, or it would have been a 300 hour miniseries. The problem is that most of the changes dumb the story and the characters down incredibly. Now there are ludicrous incest plots, poisonings, witchcraft, madness, supernatural visions, torture scenes, self-flagelations and arbitrary fight scenes (some meant to involve Jack more and to give him more protagonism, from earlier), that reduce the whole ensemble to a bunch of cartoon characters. If they couldn't come up with better stuff to make it exciting than what they used, they had plenty to pick from in the book itself (it is a best seller after all, with a rape scene every 50 pages or so, really evil bad guys and plenty of carnage to go around).

Another thing that hurts the series is how they try to pack too much plot. The first episode feels like a trailer, spending a few seconds on each scene and jumping all over the place trying to keep up with everybody, and ultimately failing to bring us close to anyone. It's a shame, because the series is quite well cast (I love McShane; when I read the book before watching the series I imagined Waleran's lines in his voice already), and it does have great production value (which is perhaps the greatest challenge in making a story of this scope within a budget; we are to thank computer imagery and Eastern Europe set building costs, I guess). I just wish they had cut the original story down more (the book repeats ten times in a row an identical cycle of threat-threat averted-new threat, by the same characters, almost in the same manner, over and over: would have been easy to pick just some of those), but that they would have taken the time to let us know the characters more intimately. Also, that they had used the book for guidance as how to keep their characters somewhat real and consistent; Follet has a far superior talent for that than the series writer. Some times, making things more over the top doesn't make them more impactful; they are impactful when they feel real, they aren't when they turn cartoony and silly. It's also ironic that the book would be more cinematic than the series; the suspense is more suspenseful, the melodrama much more tear-jerking... and I keep thinking that it's because of the pace; because of how in the series they rush through everything at trailer-speed. It feels like watching the ten second summary of last week's episode... except that it carries on at that pace through the whole episode! You need suspense time if you want to raise suspense! Also, there are things essential to understand what the characters do, such as the terror of starvation, that they don't even try to dramatize in the series because it would take too long (it feels).

The Scott brothers (who executive produce the series) are great craftsmen, both (Ridley has made masterpieces), but their movies are only as good as the original material; they are not writers and they can't elevate a script. In this series, there was material with great potential, but the potential in the book was lost along the process, and on the other hand, the brothers weren't directing themselves, so the series is not beneficiary of their craft, either. In a way, we get the worst of both worlds.

If you love period epics I guess it's still worth watching, in the absence of much else out there. But if you haven't seen, for example, Rome, I would recommend that a hundred times better (on account of compelling characters, skillful writing, artful movie-making... and with the same or more sex and violence, for those who just care about that). I also encourage everyone to give the Pillars of The Earth a shot as a book, even if you already saw the series. It's not high literature, it's a really entertaining best seller, a page turner, with compelling characters, and, for the lovers of the period, it is not a scholarly work, but it is fairly well researched and offers a fun trip through another era.
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57 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2010
I am listening to the Audio Version of the book, and I'm almost through. I could not BELEIVE how fantastic the casting is, especially Ellen who looked exactly as I had imagined her. I had chills watching the entire first episode. A few things were changed and happened out of order from the book but not enough to make a difference. I CAN'T WAIT until the DVD comes out. I watch almost all historical fiction series and this one rocks, it's up there with "Rome" "Tudors" "Deadwood" All I can say is WOW!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2011
Okay, so I did watch the whole thing, but each episode I wasn't sure I'd keep going. I love being transported back to a very different time. The history was all great stuff, and it's terrific to be able to settle into a long story of many characters over time. My main problems are twofold.

It was too rushed to really settle in. Things happened too fast, with big jumps in time that made some character interactions and changes seem too convenient. After the first episode, I wanted the whole thing to have been another twenty minutes longer. Same amount of story, just more time with the characters and developing the world and plot. Each episode after that I felt the same way.

Also, I do think the evil characters were too unrelentingly evil. They each had one note, with occasional fears about damnation, but never enough to stop them from doing the next horrible act. It did feel like a soap opera at times, where the filmmakers want to make all the characters so obviously good or bad so that viewers don't get confused.

For me, it was a frustrating series. I finished it, yes, but I wish I'd liked it more.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
I read The Pillars of the Earth (Deluxe Edition) (Oprah's Book Club) (Paperback) several years ago and to this day it remains one of my favorite novels of historical fiction. Well, when I heard that there was to be a mini-series based on the book, I was predictably excited. The show may not be a faithful rendition of the novel (after all the book itself was epic in terms of number of pages and story arcs) but it does a suitably credible job of condensing the novel into 8 hours of film.

The story is set in medieval England, circa 12th century, and it revolves around the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England. There are many themes in this story - church politics and corruption; greed and power revolving around the fight over the throne of England; family, friendship, and passion, amongst others. Some of the central characters (and some shortlived-characters) are Tom Builder (played almost to perfection by Rufus Sewell); Prior Phillip (Matthew McFadyen who also played Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice opposite Keira Knightley; the morally bankrupt church official Father Waleran Bigod (Ian McShane delivering a truly repulsive performance); Earl of Shiring, Bartholomew (Donald Sutherland); the earl's daughter Aliena (Hayley Atweel); fatherless Jack Jackson (a brilliant Eddie Redmayne), and many more. Despite having many familiar and high-profile actors in this show, the actors do a credible job of infusing their roles with the specific characteristics of a particular character (so that for example, I'm not imagining McFadyen as Darcy, in fact far from it - he totally inhabits his role as the devout and unwavering Prior Phillip).

The cinematography is excellent, and there are also loads of sexy scenes in this production (nudity abounds). At times, I did feel that the director and producers got carried away with all the sex scenes, but in the final analysis, these scenes did enhance the storyline and added the requisite sexy factor to increase the production's appeal (?) yet the story is well-told and could have survived on that merit alone. Fans of well-made historical dramas will find lots to love in this production.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 23, 2010
I have seen all but the ending of this monumental film based on Pillars of the Earth. It is respectful of the book, with some minor changes I wasn't sure were really necessary, however, they didn't change the main story very much, so I was pleased to put up with them! I rarely watch television, but this was worth every viewing minute! If you loved the book, you MUST see this film adaptation. If you haven't, do yourself a favor and read the book first and then watch the dvd's. If you love historical fiction, this is a must read. One might wonder that the building of a cathedral could be the center of an exciting storyline, but it's possible and this book continues to be among my top three favorites. The film will definitely be among my favorites as well. The characters were very well cast, and although many of the actors/actresses are unknown to me, they are very talented and did not disappoint.
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